On Sunday, Brazil’s top electoral court ruled that “Lula” – former president Luiz Inacio da Silva – cannot run in the presidential election this October.
He served two terms as president (2003- 2011), dutifully waited out the following two terms, and his Workers’ Party (PT) has nominated him for the presidency again.
Opinion polls give him 39% support, more than twice as much as any other candidate. But Lula is in jail in the southern city of Curitiba, serving a 12-year sentence for corruption – and he is not getting out any time soon.
He is probably guilty – perhaps not of the specific offence he has already been convicted for, but of four other charges of money laundering, influence peddling and obstruction of justice that are still pending.
Lula’s current conviction rests on little more than the word of an executive of a giant construction company, who claims he gave Lula a penthouse apartment in a seaside resort in return for a lucrative contract with state-owned oil company Petrobras. The executive was facing corruption charges and made the accusation as part of a plea bargain.
But there is plenty of evidence that Lula engaged in other kinds of dodgy fund-raising.
So Lula appointed PT members to senior executive roles in Petrobras and other stateowned companies. They demanded kickbacks from companies that sought contracts with Petrobras and the others, and handed the money over to the PT – which handed much of it on to smaller parties in Congress in return for their votes.
That’s how Lula pushed through radical measures like the “bolsa familial”, a regular payment to poor Brazilians (provided that their children had an 85% attendance record at school and had received all their vaccinations) that lifted 35 million people out of poverty. Brazil’s economy boomed and when he left office in 2011 with an 83% approval rating, Brazilians were richer.
His chosen successor, Dilma Rousseff, won the election, but then world commodity prices collapsed, the Brazilian economy tanked, and unemployment soared. She squeaked back into office in the 2015 election, but was impeached in 2016 for misrepresenting the scale of the deficit.
The past eight years have been miserable for Brazilians both economically and politically, but Rouseff’s Operation Car Wash has offered real hope for the future. It’s a huge police and judicial operation, which targets both corrupt politicians and the businesspeople who buy them up.
“She always underestimated Car Wash,” said Delcidio do Amaral, the PT’s former leader in the Federal Senate, now under house arrest, “because she thought it would reach everyone but her.”
Instead, it has destroyed Lula.
So what happens now? The PT has 10 days to substitute Fernando Haddad, Lula’s choice, as the Workers’ Party candidate for the presidency, but it’s unlikely that he can win all the votes that would have gone to Lula.
Which may leave the road open for a dark-horse candidate like Jair Bolsonaro, a born-again would-be Trump who disparages women, blacks and gays.
The road to hell (or at least somewhere quite unpleasant) is often paved with good intentions.