Poll: One in Four Brazilians ‘Not Aware’ of Presidential Front-Runner’s 12-Year Corruption Sentence

Undeterred by failed appeal, Brazil's da Silva vows to run
AP Photo/Andre Penner

A Brazilian election poll found that 24 percent of respondents are not aware that an appellate court sentenced former president and current presidential front-runner Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva to 12 years in prison on corruption charges.

Lula of the leftist Workers’ Party (PT) is leading the 2018 presidential race with 36 percent of the vote, suggesting that over half of those who support him do not know that he has been found guilty in two courts of taking millions in graft and laundering the money, buying himself a luxury “triplex” property and securing his future.

The Brazilian newspaper O Globo extracted this detail from a Datafolha survey taken nearly a week after Lula’s second conviction, on January 29 and 30. The 24 percent of voters not aware of the appellate court affirming his conviction and extending his sentence by two years represents 35 million people, the newspaper notes. Brazil boasts 146 million eligible voters.

The second conviction triggered the imposition of the “Clean Slate Law,” which bans politicians convicted of corruption from running for office. Lula still awaits a final appeal, however, in which he is clinging to the hope of having his conviction overturned before elections in October.

Despite his conviction—the result of years of investigations in what is now known as “Operation Car Wash,” Lula remains the frontrunner. “Operation Car Wash” is a sprawling prosecutorial probe into Petrobras, the state-run oil company, that found politicians from nearly all of Brazil’s dozens of political parties participating in a scheme in which politicians would secure overpriced infrastructure contracts to private corporations who would then kick some of the excess profits back to the politicians involved. The plan peaked during Lula’s tenure; two courts have found that he personally profited to the tune of millions from the operation.

Speaking to O Globo, Mauro Paulino, Datafolha’s director general, said he did not expect Lula to lose votes since 24 percent of people became informed about his conviction, as most were low education, lower-income voters—the same demographic that has traditionally supported the leftist politician. The newspaper notes that most of those who said they were unaware of the appellate trial only had an elementary school education and tended to make barely more than minimum wage.

Datafolha’s poll, the first since both Lula’s second conviction and the entry of former president Fernando Collor de Mello into the race, revealed shocking levels of comfort with corruption in government. Lula remains the front-runner in the race, for example, despite 80 percent of respondents saying that they believe Lula was aware of Operation Car Wash while in office. More than half of those polled said they wanted to see Lula in prison.

47 percent of Brazilians, including current President Michel Temer, said they would like Lula to have a chance to be on the 2018 ballot.

“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,” Temer told reporters in an interview in January.

Other Brazilian officials have called the persistence of the Lula campaign a “surreal situation” for the country.

Datafolha found that, without Lula on the ballot, conservative legislator and military veteran Jair Bolsonaro would likely win the first round of voting, but without the majority necessary to keep a run-off vote from happening. Brazilian law requires anyone not winning the first round by a majority to enter a run-off with the second-most popular presidential choice.

Bolsonaro has run a campaign largely centered around social conservatism—his campaign slogan includes the phrase “God above everyone” and he has made opposition to LGBT issues a pillar of his policy—in a nation known as among the world’s most socially liberal. Bolsonaro is, however, the only candidate making a significant dent in the polls who has never been accused of corruption.

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