Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro may have to face tough competition as the Supreme Court on Monday annulled a string of criminal convictions against former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, enabling him to make a political comeback and even run for presidency in the 2022 elections.
Lula, a leftist leader, was Brazil’s president for two terms from 2003 to 2011. He was convicted in a corruption case in 2017, due to which he could not run for presidency in 2018 despite being a front-runner, according to polls. Bolsonaro won the elections with a landslide. With his sentence now annulled and political rights restored, Lula can once again challenge the far-right incumbent president in the elections next year.
In April 2018, Lula was imprisoned following an appeal court upholding a 12-year sentence handed down to the former president by judge Sergio Moro for corruption and money laundering. Later in November 2019, Brazil’s Supreme Court ruled that defendants could only be jailed after all their appeals to higher courts had been exhausted, The Guardian reported. This allowed Lula to walk out of jail but he had lost his political rights and could not run for office.
While Lula has always claimed innocence and termed the case against him as politically motivated, speculations over the same widened as the federal judge Sergio Moro, who oversaw Lula’s case, joined Bolsonaro’s cabinet as the justice minister soon after he became president.
Moreover, the anti-corruption task force investigating Lula in the Operation Car Wash case, was disbanded amid a controversy over ethical and procedural irregularities by its prosecutors. The task force was based in Curitiba.
Justice Fachin on Monday ruled that Lula should never have been prosecuted in Curitiba. The decision over four criminal cases did not represent an acquittal of Lula.
Soon after the Supreme Court decision, Brazil’s attorney general’s office said that it would seek a further ruling from the full court.
Meanwhile, President Bolsonaro spoke to his supporters in front of his official residence in Brasilia, Bolsonaro saying people did not even want Lula as a candidate. “I believe the Brazilian people do not even want a candidate like that [Lula] in 2022, much less [his] possible election,” said Bolsonaro, according to the Anadolu Agency.
Bolsonaro also accused Justice Fachin of having a “strong connection” with the leftist Workers’ Party, to which Lula belongs.
Lula’s possible comeback to the political fray was celebrated by many at home and abroad. President Alberto Fernández of Argentina said the cases against Lula had been pursued to “persecute and eliminate him” from the political contest.
Celebro que @LulaOficial haya sido rehabilitado en todos sus derechos políticos. Se anularon las condenas en su contra que fueron dictadas con el solo fin de perseguirlo y eliminarlo de la carrera política.
Se hizo Justicia!#LulaLivre https://t.co/Hog0MqFtJg
— Alberto Fernández (@alferdez) March 8, 2021
The left leader has been a vocal critic of the Bolsonaro administration. He told The Guardian in an interview last year that the president was leading Brazil to the ‘slaughterhouse’ with his mishandling of the Covid-19 pandemic. At the same breath, Lula had asserted that the Left will return to power in the 2021 presidential election as disaffection against Bolsonaro’s actions grows. “You can be certain the left will be governing Brazil again after 2022. We don’t need to talk about who the candidate is right now. But we will vote for someone who is committed to human rights and respects them, who respects environmental protection, who respects the Amazon … who respects blacks and the indigenous. We’re going to elect someone who is committed to the poor of this country,” he said.
However, while giving that interview, the leftist leader dismissed the possibility him as a candidate as he did not expect his conviction to be quashed. With the latest development, Lula may be the one to give Bolsonaro a tough competition next year.