Lula Leads in Polls as Court Upholds Conviction

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Former president of Brazil Lula da Silva’s corruption conviction was upheld by an appeals court, which, according to Brazilian law, mean’s he’s not allowed to hold office for 8 years. But that hasn’t stopped Lula from campaigning for the upcoming presidential election in October. Journalist Mike Fox explains

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Story Transcript

SHARMINI PERIES: It’s the Real News. I’m Sharmini Peries, coming to you from Baltimore.

On Monday final procedural objections raised by lawyers of former leftist president of Brazil Lula da Silva was upheld by an appeals court. This means that Lula’s corruption conviction remains. The conviction and the court procedures have been so broad that a UN Human Rights Commission lawyer Geoffrey Robertson, who is also a lawyer for the queen of England, has said that that these proceedings against Lula has violated fundamental principles of the law and that it’s an aberration of justice. In spite of all of this, upholding the conviction leaves the possibility that Lula will soon be jailed. However Lula will not be imprisoned until the country’s Supreme Court decides on April 4 whether to accept his request that he be allowed to exhaust his appeals process before landing in jail. The Supreme Court ruled in 2016 that defendants should begin serving prison sentences after their conviction was upheld on a first appeal. However, several members of the court are pressing to revisit that decision and perhaps reverse it. But this is not going to stop Lula from campaigning for the upcoming presidential election which will be held on October 7.

Joining us now from Florianopolis, Brazil to analyze all of this is Mike Fox. Mike is a freelance journalist based in Brazil. Thanks for joining us, Mike.

MIKE FOX: Thanks for having me, Sharmini.

SHARMINI PERIES: Now, Mike, the conviction means that Lula cannot be a candidate for the presidential election, particularly since its appeal was not granted. It was, the conviction was upheld. So why is he campaigning for the presidential run this October?

MIKE FOX: So it’s a little confusing. Everything in Brazilian politics is a little confusing, and particularly in this case with Lula. According to Brazilian law, people who have been convicted of corruption cannot be candidates for at least eight years they cannot run in those elections, or can’t hold office. It does not mean, however, that he can’t register and he can’t campaign. So that’s most likely what we’re going to be seeing over the coming months. Lula is going to register for the elections. He’s been very, very vocal that he is in it to win it, and he’s going to be campaigning. He’s been on this southern tour of Brazil for the last week. He was in Santa Catarina here for, you know, just a couple of days ago. Now he’s in Parana.

And he’s been very vocal that the campaign is on, that he is innocent, he is not guilty, and he’s going to win the elections and he’s going to bring back the kind of, the poverty alleviation programs back into Brazil. So what he’s allowed to do, he’s allowed to register, he’s allowed to campaign. The , the jury, the the sector that will decide whether or not he can actually run in the office is the Supreme Electoral Court, and that will actually happen at some point during the campaign. Now, the PT has until 20 days out from the election to substitute his candidacy.

So most likely we’re going to see Lula running. We’re going to see him register. We’re going to see big events. Lula is the leading candidate in the elections right now. He’s 41 percent above anyone else.

And you know, despite the corruption charges he is, he is still well revered amongst folks across Brazil. And you know, I think what we’re going to imagine is 20 days out, if he actually cannot hold office, the PT at that point will then substitute his candidate to somebody else who he will, you know, be staunchly behind and running beside them throughout the rest of the campaign.

SHARMINI PERIES: Right. And Lula in his various campaign speeches has indicated that even if he is in jail, he will campaign. He will continue to fight for justice and the possibility of the PT party gaining access to the presidency once again.

MIKE FOX: Absolutely. No, no. Absolutely that’s what’s happening. Now, of course, in jail it’s hard to hold the campaigns, it’s hard to get out, it’s hard to hold out your your stump speeches. And we saw that just a couple days ago here in Florianopolis. The amount of people in the crowd that were ecstatic to see Lula, people crying, people cheering, people passing their hat so he could sign them. You know, he’s still very much a rock star figure in Brazil, and he’s going to remain that way whether he’s in jail or not.

SHARMINI PERIES: Mike, in terms of the support that Lula does have on the ground, you’ve just said that, you know, many people support him, many people are coming out of the , out to the campaigns. But what does it look like in terms of national polling?

MIKE FOX: So the latest figures are that he has about 41 percent in the polls looking at the three candidates for the elections. That’s the highest level of any of the potential candidates. He’s well ahead of the pack in front of anybody else.

Now, right after him, though, is Jair Bolsonaro. Remember, we did a story on Bolsonaro out last fall. He is the Trump-like candidate. He’s extremely homophobic, racist. He says that people need guns. And xenophobic. And people are really scared about what could happen if Lula does not, if he in the end can’t run, or if he doesn’t win the elections and Jair Bolsonaro gets into office. So he’s the second in line. After that you’ve got several other candidates for the PMDB which is, you know, the right-wing party, and several other candidates. But in terms of another kind of left-wing candidate like Lula, we don’t have anybody else that can really hold people together, which is why I think we’re going to see him in the race until the very last moment.

SHARMINI PERIES: And how likely do you think this right-wing candidate will succeed, in the sense that nobody expected Trump to win in the United States of America. Nobody in India expected Modi to win. These right-wing candidates seem to be gaining in popularity across the world. Would that be a possibility in Brazil?

MIKE FOX: It’s a distinct possibility. And for a lot of folks here it’s a really scary possibility. I mean, I went, I was in the the rally of the opposition, the people in support of Bolsonaro and against Lula, as well, that same day on Saturday. And almost everyone I interviewed said they were going to vote for Bolsonaro. And there was huge excitement about it. I mean, the guy, every time he flies to a new city he has hundreds of people that come out and support him virulently.

So the possibility of him winning. He’s kind of the type of candidate, he’s the Trump-like candidate, or even like the the Bernie Sanders-like candidate that’s really generating excitement from, from the grassroots. And excitement because, although he’s been in politics for years and decades, he’s a bit of an outsider. His ideas are an outsider, you know, they’re extremely radical. In fact, during the march this last Saturday, the anti-Lula march, there was this one group, Vem pra Rua, and they were playing these songs calling on the fact that they need more guns so they can defend their family.

So the whole issue of gun rights here in Brazil is also being picked up along with the Jair Bolsonaro candidacy. So there’s lot of people excited about him. And it is extremely, extremely scary now. I think one scenario we could potentially see is something that we saw in France, right, where you have an issue of Jair Bolsonaro against, say, Doria, who is the current Sao Paulo mayor. He’s, he was the former host of the Brazilian Apprentice show, to make another connection to Donald Trump. And I think we could, he’s more, he’s neoliberal, he’s on the right, but much more centrist than than Bolsonaro. So I think we could see a situation where, say, the second round of the elections goes to both of them, and then the left has to decide on whether they’re going to vote for Doria, or not vote at all with the potential of Bolsonaro coming into office.

SHARMINI PERIES: Right. All right. Now, in terms of the PT that’s a party of Lula da Silva, what do you think their plan is having a Lula campaign for the presidency that way he is at the moment?

MIKE FOX: I mean, the plan has to be that they’re throwing all their chips behind Lula and potential for Lula to be able to run. There is still that possibility. Like I said, he has to appeal to the Supreme Federal Court and also to the Supreme Court of, Court of Justice, with the hope of one of them overturning this conviction sentence. It’s not out of the question, although it’s not going to be easy. And so I think they’re really trying to push for it, hoping that they’re just going to keep rolling forward. And at one of these moments, Lula might get a break.

Now, even in that case, like I said, 20 days out they could still substitute his candidacy with that type of momentum into the elections with the hope of even if they bring somebody in at that point with all of Lula’s support behind them, they could still potentially make it into the second round. And with kind of the left consolidating behind one candidacy, let’s say instead of Bolsonaro, that could potentially win the elections. Because anybody else the PT would have to substitute Lula at this point just would not have any ability to have the same approval that Lula would.

SHARMINI PERIES: Finally, Michael, what’s the plan of Temer and his party in terms of the upcoming election?

MIKE FOX: So you know, they’ve, Temer has been floating the idea of potentially running, I think, the possibilities. It’s pretty low considering he has a 6 percent approval rating and nobody is going to vote for him.

You know, the PMDB has always kind of jumped on board with whoever is the leading, you know, whoever looks like they’re going to be winning the elections. And that’s how the PMDB has stayed in power but never actually held power until now in the last few decades. So I could see a similar case where, you know, in the second round they kind of jump on board between whether it’s Bolsonaro, or whether it’s Doria, whoever that is. It is one situation that’s complicated for Lula because in the past he’s won the election, you know, as in a coalition with the PMDB. That’s how he won office and that’s how the party has stayed in office with not just with the PMDB, with several other parties. And right now the PT’s got to go it alone, except for other left parties. There’s tons of people that would get behind Lula, but would they get behind another candidate? That remains to be seen.

SHARMINI PERIES: All right, Michael. Thank you so much for joining us. We’ll have you back soon, because I think this is going to be a very interesting campaign coming up. Thank you.

MIKE FOX: Thank you, Sharmini. It’s going to be a roller coaster ride here till the end.

SHARMINI PERIES: And thank you for joining us here on the Real News Network.