The weekend saw more political turmoil in Brazil, when former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (known as Lula), who is serving a 12-year sentence in prison for corruption since last April, received a release order, which was then blocked by the original judge who imprisoned him. The other judge again tried to release Lula but another judge blocked this. It was like something out of a soap opera, played out in front of the whole world.
Brazilian news outlets were going mad over the weekend, and the topic took prevalence over anything else in the country. There was added confusion in the country amid the presidential elections schedule in October, where Lula is still the frontrunner at the polls, despite his incarceration.
Figure 1.Poster demanding Lula’s liberation. Credit: Twitter/@LulaOficial
Why is Lula so popular?
Lula was president of Brazil from 2003 to 2010. He became president after three previous failed attempts, being the representative of the PT (Workers Party). The PT’s political platform leans to the left, which appealed to millions of Brazilians who live in poverty. During his presidency, his social programmes made him even more popular among the masses in the country. One of the most recognised programmes Lula put in place was Bolsa Família, an innovative social welfare plan were the government would give cash to poor families as long as they kept their children in school and attended clinics and hospitals for preventive healthcare visits. The results had been overwhelmingly positive in 10 years, and the World Bank reports state that extreme poverty in Brazil was reduced from 9.7 percent to 4.3 percent. In addition, inequality was reduced as well, with a 15 percent decrease.
Lula was accused of corruption in a major local scandal ‘Lava Jato’ that involved government officials at the highest levels around the state-owned oil company Petrobras. Lula has been accused and found guilty of receiving an apartment at the beach worth $1.1 million USD from a construction company which had been awarded Petrobras’ contracts. Lula’s defence attorneys have claimed that there is no real evidence of Lula owning the mentioned property which makes his imprisonment illegal. Lula’s followers have said that his judicial process is a political persecution from his opponents, the same group that supported current Brazilian president Temer in his impeachment of Dilma Rousseff. Former president Roussef was separated from her position due to corruption accusations back in 2016. The Brazilian Senate voted to remove her and be substituted by Temer, who happened to be the opposition candidate defeated by Rousseff in the 2014 elections. It is worth mentioning that Temer has been accused of corruption as well.
Figure 2. PT members supporting the liberation of Lula. Credit: Twitter/@LulaOficial
Where are we at now?
Over the weekend, appeals Judge Rogerio Favreto gave the order to free Lula from prison. One of the claims Favreto had for the release of Lula had to do with the political campaign for the presidency. Despite being in jail, Lula has not yet stood down from the race as many expected him to do. His supporters are still hopeful for him to meet the electoral tribunal deadline to officially put his candidacy forward on August 15th.
Judge Sergio Moro, who gave the apprehension order for Lula in the first place, blocked Favreto’s decision to liberate Lula, claiming that he had no jurisdiction over the case. Judge Favreto tried once more to overrule Moro’s decision but another appellate judge on the case ruled to keep Lula in prison.
Figure 3. Former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. Credit: Twitter/@evoespueblo
Despite Lula’s imprisonment, his popularity is very high. Just after turning himself in to the authorities, he had 31 percent of the votes, followed by Jair Bolsonaro with 15 percent. That trend on the polls has not changed his supporters want him out of jail so he can run for the presidency.
A loop Lula would have to jump if he is released from prison is a law that forbids any person that has been prosecuted for a crime or that has been separated from public office due to criminal allegations to run for public office for eight years. The electoral tribunal would have to make an exemption for Lula to be allowed to run, but in his favour, this has been allowed in the past and recently former president Rousseff was able to seek a seat on the senate, despite being removed from the presidency.
What will happen next?
Whether Lula will run or not remains to be seen. What is clear is that the corruption scandals have darkened the presidential elections and divided society even more. What is remarkable is how, despite being in jail, the Brazilian people put their faith in Lula; they feel a connection with him more than with any other politician.
Most Brazilians do not argue Lula is corrupt, or any of the accused politicians, but what they tend to say is that at least with Lula the country worked better, and millions saw a tangible positive change in their lives. Whether he comes back or not depends on his freedom.