Convicted Leftist Lula Still Tops Brazil’s Presidential Polls, Though Majority Want Him in Jail

Former Brazilian president Luis Inacio Lula da Silva has emerged as the front-runner in po

Brazilian firm Datafolha found in a poll released Thursday that former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva remains the frontrunner in the 2018 presidential election, despite the fact that over half of Brazilians believe he should be barred from running over his 12-year prison sentence on corruption charges.

80 percent of Brazilians surveyed also believe that Lula was aware of corruption in his government when he was president, suggesting that thousands of supporters believe Lula is corrupt and would vote for him, anyway. Over half of respondents believe that, despite having his conviction affirmed, Lula will serve no prison time. Most believe he will appear on the ballot.

The poll is the first of its kind since an appellate court affirmed the conviction Lula received last year on charges of taking millions in graft through an extensive corruption scheme involving the state-run oil firm Petrobras. While the Supreme Federal Court (STF) had initially sentenced Lula to 9.5 years in prison, the appellate court extended the sentence.

Lula has brought his case to the nation’s court of last resort. If affirmed a second time, he would be disqualified from running in October’s election.

Datafolha nonetheless found that 47 percent of respondents want to see Lula on the ballot, while 34 to 37 percent of respondents would vote for him. This is the largest block of support for any candidate, with conservative legislator Jair Bolsonaro in second place with 16 to 18 percent of the vote.

51 percent of Brazilians said they do not want the government to allow Lula to run for president while convicted of money laundering and corruption. 53 percent said they want to see him in prison.

Datafolha notes that the percentages of those who want to see Lula imprisoned and freed are both within the poll’s margin of error, indicating Brazilians are split almost exactly in half over the issue. The number of people who wished to see Lula disqualified from the election for his crimes was notably larger among those with high school and college educations and increased as respondents’ income increased, suggesting that education is a factor in whether Brazilians believe Lula should face justice.

Lula has avoided beginning to serve his prison sentence largely due to his popularity among poorer Brazilians; the leftist Workers’ Party (PT) candidate has long relied on socialist policies to attract their vote. Judge Sergio Moro refused to imprison Lula after his first sentence in July citing the potential for national “trauma.” Current President Michel Temer has expressed a desire to see Lula run a presidential campaign on the merits, but lose due to his record of corruption.

Lula’s removal from the race would benefit Bolsonaro, an extreme social conservative who has criticized Brazil’s former military dictatorship for “torturing and not killing” but has never been implicated in any corruption. Excluding Lula from the voting options, Datafolha found that Bolsonaro would receive 18 percent of the vote, the most of any candidate. The Lula coalition does not appear to benefit any other candidate, as third-party candidates Marina Silva and Ciro Gomes do not gain much traction against Bolsonaro without Lula in the race.

Brazil uses a run-off presidential election system, however, which means Bolsonaro would only win the race after defeating the second-place winner in a subsequent run-off vote. Silva, a leftist environmentalist, is likeliest to reach the run-off stage.

Fernando Collor de Mello, the first Brazilian president after the fall of the military dictatorship, appears to be a non-factor in the presidential election. Collor—who was impeached out of office but remains a senator—announced he would run for president this month, claiming that the country needs a familiar face with only a moderate history of corruption to lead the race.

The latest Datafolha poll, the first to count Mello in the race, found that he would receive 2 percent of the vote if running against Lula and Bolsonaro, and 3 percent if Lula leaves the race. He also boasts the highest unfavorability rating of all the candidates—44 percent of respondents said they would vote for Collor “under no circumstances.” 40 percent of respondents said the same about Lula, the frontrunner. Counting possible candidates, Collor takes second place in unfavorability to President Michel Temer, who has insisted he will not run. Temer was never elected president, replacing impeached leader Dilma Rousseff in 2016.

It appears unlikely that Lula’s PT, which already survived the impeachment of his successor Rousseff, will be able to stage a significant run for the presidency without him. Campaign officials have already confessed they have “no plan B” if Lula is imprisoned. Some in politics have reportedly begun clamoring for an outsider candidate to fill the void—namely, television host Luciano Huck. Huck, who boasts the distinction of being the first Brazilian to attract one million Twitter followers, is popular among PT leftists, but has denied having any interest in the presidency.

Follow Frances Martel on Facebook and Twitter.


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