It would be difficult to find a topic that diverts attention from the humanitarian, health and economic disaster represented by the devastating advance of the Covid-19 pandemic in Brazil, but Luís Inácio Lula da Silva’s re-entry into the political game in The 2022 elections achieved this feat. No political actor was indifferent to the overturning of the former president’s convictions, but only the future will tell who will benefit from Lula’s return to the electoral arena, which brings enormous political capital but also a rejection that is difficult to overcome.
A Brazil already used to surprise shocks and revelations that could change political bodies every other day was taken over again on Monday with the decision of Supreme Court Justice (STF) Edson Fachin to grant a habeas corpus, who overturns all convictions of Lula under Operation Lava-Jato. With a single signature, Fachin not only pushed all cases against the former president back to first place – so that they came very close to the recipe – but also made him eligible to run for public office.
Ultimately, the STF also decided to assess the impartiality of former federal judge Sergio Moro in conducting the trial against Lula to comply with an old request from the former president’s defense. One of the judges asked for more time to evaluate the request, but the tendency was to view Moro as partisan and resolve a major defeat for the former judge and an unprecedented demoralization of Operation Car Wash. At the end of this chapter, Lula’s eyes turn to the year 2022.
The decision has not yet been made, but the replacement of Lula’s political right makes the former president the natural candidate for the Labor Party (PT) in next year’s presidential election. “If I were to bet my last penny, I would say that it would be a candidate,” said São Paulo politician Maria Hermínia Tavares to the PUBLIC. In Brasilia, where mandates are just pauses to prepare for elections, everyone talks about the return of the former metalworker.
In fact, Lula was never left out. He was the PT candidate for the 2018 election but was prevented from doing so due to the beliefs that gave way to Fernando Haddad, despite always floating in the campaign. When he was released in late 2019, he took over the leadership of the opposition on the left and there was always hope that he could appear on the ballot papers again.
Lula herself never made this a priority, at least in public. In an interview with El País Brasil published on the eve of the Supreme Court’s (STF) ruling, he said he didn’t have to be “the PT’s presidential candidate”. But he never closed that door: “I’m 75 years old, very healthy, but I’ve found that the [Presidente dos EUA, Joe] Biden is older than me and runs the United States. When I arrive in 2022 I will only be 77 years old, a young man. “
Lula’s likely entry into the election campaign will first and foremost serve to validate a statement that has been a constant in the PT leadership: the former president is the only politician capable of defeating current president Jair Bolsonaro excluded due to a conspiracy that manipulated the Brazilian judicial system and favored the far-right candidate who invited Sergio Moro, the judge who first convicted Lula, to the government.
“Lula is the PT’s best candidate,” says Maria Hermínia Tavares, although she recognizes that the party has good employees, like Haddad or the governors of the states in the northeast. The polls show that nearly a decade after leaving power, Lula continues to enjoy strong support from the Brazilian people. A poll released this week by the state of São Paulo found that Lula beat Bolsonaro in a second round of the presidential election.
Nervousness on the plateau
The Brazilian press says Lula’s return did not go well in the corridors of the Planalto Palace. Bolsonaro said he believed “the Brazilian people don’t even want a candidate” from the PT in the second round in 2022 and accused Fachin, one of Lava-Jato’s biggest supporters, of links with the party. Bolsonaro’s close circle was convinced that Haddad would be the “PT candidate” and that the remake of the 2018 victory would be easier. With Lula, the stakes increase.
The ex-president, however, focused on himself, a rejection almost as high as his approval, and showed that the lines of polarization that marked the last few years of Brazilian politics remain firm. And this is a gift to Bolsonaro, whose political style favors a direct confrontation with the PT. “Lula puts Bolsonaro in a comfortable position with the opposite pole,” writes journalist Igor Gielow in Folha de S.Paulo.
Although the PT remains the largest party on the Brazilian left, it has been on a downward trend since the 2016 local elections. Last year’s poor results show that the recovery is slow. To be successful, Lula must build bridges that go beyond the left closest to the PT. “Lula reached the second round at its height and only won with a political coalition that went beyond the left, with the center, including parties that are now on Bolsonaro’s support base,” notes the political scientist.
It won’t be easy to build these bridges. The reactions of key moderate law enforcement officials to the lifting of Lula’s convictions have been particularly harsh. São Paulo Governor João Doria put Lula and Bolsonaro on an equal footing, saying that “polarization favors extremists who are destroying the country”. In the same way, television presenter Luciano Huck received the news angrily and attacked Lula: “Repeated figure does not complete the album.”
All of this benefits Bolsonaro, who has enjoyed stable popularity for over a year and a half since the elections, says Maria Hermínia Tavares. “I have a feeling that both sides are acting like the dividing line is 2016. The center-right believes it can win without the left and the left believes it can win without the center-right,” notes the Analyst.