Lula, in jail... and on the presidential ballot?

Monday, August 6, 2018

Brazil's leftist workers' party (PT) has launched the official campaign of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva for president despite the fact that the charismatic former head of state is currently serving a prison sentence and in all likelihood will not be on the ballot in October.

During its national convention over the weekend, PT also announced that former Sao Paulo mayor Fernando Haddad will acompany Lula on the ticket as vice president.

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Lula turned himself in to federal police in April to begin a 12-year prison sentence for corruption and money laundering.

"This national PT meeting may be one of the most important in our party's history. The responsibility that lies ahead is enormous. Today's decision will lead us to a fierce struggle for democracy, for the Brazilian people and for Brazil," said Lula through a letter from prison that was read during the convention.

Under Brazilian election rules, a person serving a prison sentence cannot run for public office, but the PT is appealing the rule as the top electoral court has yet to decide on Lula's case.

"The strategy of PT is to keep Lula in the race until the last minute, using him as a martyr, an icon to attract votes to its other candidates," David Fleischer, emeritus professor of political science at the Universidade de Brasilia, told BNamericas. "The bottom line is that PT knows very well that Lula will not be a real candidate."

Brazilians will head to the polls on October 7 to vote for a president, state governors and legislators.

Local research institutes are carrying out polls with and without Lula, who ruled from 2003 to 2011, as an option. All polls that include his name have him in the lead.


Ultra-rightwing lawmaker and former army captain Jair Bolsonaro picked retired army's general Hamilton Mourão as his vice president candidate over the weekend.

Bolsonaro is the frontrunner in polls where Lula is not included as a candidate, but his disapproval ratings are just as significant, which would reduce his chances in an eventual runoff on October 28.


Meanwhile, centrist candidates with a market-friendly approach are failing to gain ground, and are pitting their hopes on TV and radio ad campaigns.

Geraldo Alckmin, from the centrist PSDB party, recently secured the support from several other centrist parties such as PR, DEM, PP, Solidariedade and PRB, and is viewed as the most business friendly candidate. He has come out in favor of fiscal reforms, including a highly unpopular pension reform to reduce government spending and debt.

Support from other centrist parties will give Alckmin more time on TV and radio, which is considered crucial to win nationwide elections in Brazil due to the huge size of the country. Electoral campaigning on TV and radio starts on August 31.

However, Alckmin is seen as lacking charisma and enough popularity in the poor regions of the north and northeast. In 2006, he was the PSDB candidate in the presidential election won by Lula.