Lula con­vic­tion opens field for ’18 pres­i­den­tial race

Kuwait Times - - ANALYSIS -

The graft con­vic­tion Wed­nes­day of for­mer Brazil­ian Pres­i­dent Luiz Ina­cio Lula da Silva, a front-run­ner for next year’s pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, opens the door for an out­sider to take power in Latin Amer­ica’s largest coun­try, po­lit­i­cal ex­perts said. Lula, a gi­ant on the Brazil­ian po­lit­i­cal scene who led Brazil from 2003 to 2011, has said he wants to run for pres­i­dent again next year. But if his nearly 10-year sen­tence is up­held on ap­peal, Lula, a founder of the left­ist Work­ers Party, would be barred from seek­ing of­fice again for eight years, be­gin­ning af­ter any jail time is com­plete.

Lula, 71, is among a raft of Brazil­ian elites top­pled by an epic cor­rup­tion scan­dal that has bat­tered the na­tion’s econ­omy, en­gulfed ev­ery ma­jor party and deep­ened pub­lic cyn­i­cism about pol­i­tics. It’s a toxic mix that has en­raged vot­ers, who are search­ing for some­one to lead them out of the po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic wilder­ness. “Brazil is now as po­lar­ized as the US, it re­ally has been for years,” said Car­los Melo, a po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tist with Insper, a Sao Paulo busi­ness school. “But if Lula is ab­sent it would un­ques­tion­ably open the space for an out­side, very emo­tional leader, a bit like US Pres­i­dent Trump.”

Lula was con­victed on Wed­nes­day by Judge Ser­gio Moro, who found Lula guilty of ac­cept­ing 3.7 mil­lion reais ($1.15 mil­lion) worth of bribes from engi­neer­ing firm OAS SA. That is the amount pros­e­cu­tors said the com­pany spent re­fur­bish­ing a beach apart­ment for Lula in re­turn for his help win­ning con­tracts with state oil com­pany Petroleo Brasileiro.

OAS was part of a sup­plier car­tel that pros­e­cu­tors said fleeced bil­lions of dol­lars from Petro­bras through in­flated con­tracts, fun­nel­ing some of the ill-got­ten gains to politi­cians and po­lit­i­cal par­ties. Sev­eral OAS ex­ec­u­tives were jailed by Moro, the hard-charg­ing judge over­see­ing the so-called Car Wash in­ves­ti­ga­tion, the largest-ever cor­rup­tion probe in Brazil’s his­tory.

Lula’ lawyers said he is in­no­cent. He will re­main free while his at­tor­neys ap­peal the rul­ing, which they have char­ac­ter­ized as a po­lit­i­cal witch hunt. The ap­peals court is ex­pected to take at least eight months to rule. “This po­lit­i­cally mo­ti­vated judg­ment at­tacks Brazil’s rule of law, democ­racy and Lula’s ba­sic hu­man rights,” Lula’s de­fense team wrote in an emailed state­ment. “It is of im­mense con­cern to the Brazil­ian peo­ple and to the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity.”

De­spite his le­gal woes, the charis­matic Lula re­mains Brazil’s best-known politi­cian and has re­tained a base of loyal sup­port­ers. As pres­i­dent, he chan­neled re­sources from a com­modi­ties boom into so­cial pro­grams that helped lift mil­lions from poverty. Re­cent sur­veys from the re­spected Datafolha polling in­sti­tute show that in a sec­ond-round runoff next year, Lula would beat all con­tenders with the ex­cep­tion of the en­vi­ron­men­tal­ist and two-time pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Ma­rina Silva, with whom he is in a tech­ni­cal tie.

But if Lula can­not run, and with roughly 20 per­cent of the elec­torate un­de­cided on any can­di­date, the elec­tion is up for grabs. While Silva has polled well, Melo and other po­lit­i­cal watch­ers doubt that the soft­spo­ken, en­vi­ron­men­tal ex­pert could win, in part be­cause her cam­paigns have lacked the fiery speeches and dra­matic flair needed to en­gage many vot­ers. The pub­lic’s thirst for show­man­ship and anti-es­tab­lish­ment can­di­dates, Melo said, could give a boost to two out­siders: Ciro Gomes, a tough-talk­ing for­mer gov­er­nor, fed­eral min­is­ter and con­gress­men who is now with the Demo­cratic Work­ers Party; and Joao Do­ria, a mil­lion­aire me­dia mogul and for­mer star of Brazil’s ver­sion of “The Ap­pren­tice.”

Gomes, de­spite his long ca­reer in pol­i­tics, is a rough-and-tum­ble politi­cian who could eas­ily po­si­tion him­self as an anti-gov­ern­ment can­di­date. Loud and po­lit­i­cally in­cor­rect, Gomes called un­pop­u­lar Pres­i­dent Michel Te­mer, him­self fac­ing a cor­rup­tion charge, the “cap­tain of the coup” that led to the im­peach­ment of for­mer Pres­i­dent Dilma Rouss­eff last year.

Do­ria, who had never held elected of­fice be­fore, stunned the po­lit­i­cal es­tab­lish­ment last year when he won the may­or­ship of South Amer­ica’s largest city in the first round, cap­tur­ing 53 per­cent of the vote. A mem­ber of the cen­trist Brazil­ian So­cial Democ­racy Party, he is loved by the busi­ness com­mu­nity for his pro-mar­ket stance. And he has caught the pub­lic’s at­ten­tion with stunts such as don­ning a street sweeper’s uni­form and spend­ing days clean­ing road­ways.

Shortly af­ter the Lula ver­dict was made pub­lic Wed­nes­day, Do­ria posted on Twit­ter that “Jus­tice has been done”. “The most shame­less man in Brazil was con­demned to nine and a half years in prison,” Do­ria con­tin­ued. “Long live Brazil.” — Reuters

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