Brazil’s president, Michel Temer, argued in an interview this week that he believes it would be “best for the country” if former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva ran in the 2018 presidential election and lost.
Lula, as he is popularly known, was sentenced to nearly a decade in prison last year on a variety of corruption crimes that occurred while he was in office. Last week, Brazil’s Supreme Federal Court rejected Lula’s appeal and extended his prison sentence to 12 years.
Lula is currently the frontrunner in the 2018 presidential race and has refused to back out, despite being convicted of taking millions in illicit funds as part of a larger corruption scheme that has come to be known as “Operation Car Wash.” Prosecutors have found evidence that dozens of politicians of all parties were involved in an extensive kickback scheme in which the government-run oil corporation Petrobras would grant contracts to private companies that would overcharge for projects. The corporations would then kick back the excess profits to the politicians that made the contracts possible.
The Brazilian Supreme Court is currently also investigating Temer in relation to Operation Car Wash.
Temer, who became president after Lula’s successor Dilma Rousseff was impeached in 2016, is not running in the 2018 race. He nonetheless offered his opinion on the Lula scandal to Brazil’s Radio Bandeirantes this week, suggesting that Lula should lose the presidential election on the merits.
“In recent times, Brazil has experienced a permanent tension and that is not good for the country,” he said. “Personally, regarding the political field, I think that if he could participate in elections and eventually be defeated, that would be the best for the country.”
“I would personally appreciate if he didn’t have all these responsibilities,” Temer added, referring to the court proceedings, “That he could dispute the election and be defeated by the vote, because that would pacify the nation.”
While Temer served as vice president to Rousseff, he is a member of the centrist Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (PMDB), not Rousseff’s and Lula’s leftist Workers’ Party (PT).
Temer also spoke to the newspaper Folha de Sao Paulo about the election. While he declined to discuss the case against Lula—the Supreme Court has granted him a final appeal, which remains pending—he claimed Lula’s criminal case was “victimizing” the former president.
“If he were defeated politically, it would be better than if he were defeated because he was victimized,” Temer said. “Victimization is not good for the country and for an ex-president.”
Temer’s logic that Brazil has been through too much in the past three years to merit having its reportedly favorite candidate for president disqualified so soon before the election is one that the court used after Lula’s first sentence to keep him out of prison. Judge Sergio Moro sentenced Lula to 9.5 years in prison but ordered that he not begin serving the sentence immediately, citing national political “trauma.”
Lula wasted no time last July in announcing he would run for president again, making a speech the day after his sentencing. “If someone thinks that, with that conviction, they got me out of the game, they can know that I’m in the game!” he told supported that had gathered in opposition to the conviction that month. A month later, he announced that he would begin a nationwide campaign tour to raise support.
PT leaders have confirmed they have no “Plan B” if Lula is ordered to serve his sentence or is disqualified from running according to Brazil’s “Clean Slate law,” where convicted criminals are banned from holding office for eight years, so unless his final appeal succeeds Lula would legally be disqualified from running even if not ordered to begin serving his term immediately.
Yet Brazil’s predicament is that Lula remains the frontrunner in the presidential race, according to nationwide polling. The firm Datafolha found in its most recent survey that 34 percent of voters would choose Lula, with conservative candidate Jair Bolsonaro running in second place at 17 percent. With Lula out of the race, Bolsonaro would win against minor candidates with 22 percent of the vote, but 30 percent of respondents said they would be “undecided.”
This open race has attracted at least one new, well-known contender: Senator Fernando Collor de Mello, who was impeached out of the presidency in the early 1990s. As senator, Collor voted to impeach Rousseff.
As Mello had yet to announce he was running before Datafolha conducted its poll, it is unclear how his entry into the race will change the race.