Brazil: Socialist Lula da Silva Exits Presidential Race He Is Legally Banned From

Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, seen here in 2006, was Brazil's most popular president
AFP/MAURICIO LIMA

Former Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva announced in a letter from prison Tuesday that he would not be running in October’s presidential race, shortly before the deadline to sign up for the presidential ballot and months after his conviction on corruption charges disqualified him from running in the election.

Brazil’s “Clean Slate Law” bans any individual convicted of corruption crimes from running for public office, meaning Lula could not appear on any ballots since losing an appeal on his original conviction in January, which extended his original sentence of 9.5 years in prison to 12 years.

Under Lula, politicians from a variety of parties benefited from a widespread corruption scheme known as “Operation Car Wash,” in which private contractors kicked back bribes to lawmakers and executives in exchange for guarantees that they would receive overpriced infrastructure contracts, funded by the Brazilian taxpayer. The nation’s courts found Lula personally guilty of accepting millions in bribes as part of this scheme and using them to purchase a luxury beachfront property.

Lula’s successor, fellow socialist Dilma Rousseff, was impeached and removed from office in 2016 over claims that she had manipulated Brazilian economic data to attract foreign investment under false pretenses. As she was never convicted of a crime, she is currently running for a senate seat in Minas Gerais state.

In his letter Tuesday from prison in Curitiba, the southern coastal city where police first uncovered evidence of “Operation Car Wash,” Lula urged supporters of his socialist Workers’ Party (PT) to accept and support the candidacy of the party’s official presidential contender, Fernando Haddad. Lula also once again insisted that he was wrongfully convicted and that he hopes to have his sentence overturned in the near future.

“I know that, one day, true justice will be done and my innocence will be recognized,” Lula wrote, according to the Brazilian newspaper O Globo. He also suggested that, should he ever be freed from prison, Haddad would grant him political power immediately: “And on that day, I will be together with Haddad to govern the people and give hope. We will all be there together to make Brazil happy again.”

“I want to ask you all who vote for me, from the bottom of my heart, to vote for comrade Fernando Haddad for president of the Republic,” he concluded.

Lula described his arrest as being “artificially included under the Clean Slate Law to be arbitrarily removed from the electoral race.”

PT officials read Lula’s letter aloud from outside the prison facility holding him in Curitiba.

The deadline for presidential candidates to sign up for the ballot on October 7 was Tuesday. Among the many legal motions that Lula’s team made this year in an attempt to get him on the ballot was a motion to extend the signup deadline by a week, which the Brazilian Supreme Court rejected.

According to O Globo, Lula’s attorneys have made at least 17 appeals to the Supreme Court in an attempt to free him since January 24, when he was convicted on appeal and sentenced to prison for at least a decade, or an average of a new legal motion every 13 days. The legal delays allowed Lula to spend another three months out of prison until the Supreme Court finally ordered him to begin serving his sentence as he had been twice convicted of his crimes. As more appeals remained, the defendant’s lawyers insisted that they could still fight the legitimacy of applying the Clean Slate Law, even if winning meant that Lula would have to campaign, and possibly govern the country, from prison.

At the conclusion of these legal proceedings this month, the court system not only banned Lula from running for president but banned him from voting in the race due to his felon status, as well.

Haddad has an uphill battle before him in the upcoming race. According to the latest poll published Wednesday by the firm Ibope, Haddad is the preferred candidate for only nine percent of respondents – low, but within the margin of error for second place. In the lead is conservative candidate Jair Bolsonaro, who experienced a four-percent boost to 26 percent support since a socialist radical stabbed him at a public rally last week.

The Ibope results mirror the findings in a poll published Tuesday by Datafolha, another Brazilian polling firm, which found Bolsonaro at 24 percent and a close race for second among the left-wing candidates. While the current lead is significant for Bolsonaro, Brazil requires a second run-off election between the top two vote-getters if no candidate receives over 50 percent of the vote. In such a situation, it is possible that left-wing voters would unite in support of whoever clinches second place against Bolsonaro and defeat him.

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