In Depth

Why is Brazil’s former president Lula still so popular?

Annulment of corruption conviction stokes suggestion of a presidential run next year

A Supreme Court judge in Brazil has annulled former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s corruption convictions, paving the way for a possible run for the presidency in 2022.

Known as Lula, the ex-leader was convicted following a bribery scandal known as “Operation Car Wash”, but it has now been ruled that the court “lacked the necessary jurisdiction” to hand down the judgement, the BBC reports.

A towering figure on the Brazilian left, Lula remains hugely popular despite his legal troubles, with right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro accusing the Supreme Court judge behind the annulment of bias.

From popular president to convicted criminal

The former steel worker and union boss left office in 2011 with an approval rating of more than 80% - largely due to the rapid economic progress that took place in Brazil under his rule.

But after he stepped down, multiple allegations against Lula and his leftist party emerged. In July 2017, he was convicted of bribery and money laundering as part of Brazil’s biggest ever corruption scandal and sentenced to nine-and-a-half years in prison.

In January 2018, an appeals court upheld the conviction and increased his sentence to 12 years and one month in prison. Lula always denied the charges, arguing that his trial was politically motivated.

The annulment now means that he would not be barred from running against Bolsonaro, who is widely expected to campaign for a second term, in 2022. However, the prosecutor-general’s office said it will appeal the decision, which would mean a retrial.

Champion of the poor 

A poll published shortly after Lula’s conviction was upheld in January 2018 showed that if an election had been held then, he would have led the race with 34% of the vote.

Analysts said at the time that his enduring popularity could be attributed to his commitment to social justice, as well as the economic prosperity ordinary Brazilians experienced during his tenure.

“In his time in office, Lula pumped billions of dollars into social programmes and can reasonably claim to have helped reverse Brazil's historic inequalities,” the BBC reported.

By increasing the minimum wage well above the rate of inflation and broadening state help to the most impoverished, he helped some 44 million people and cemented his support among the poor, the broadcaster adds.  

And that popularity has not waned, with a poll by Ipec on Sunday suggesting Lula would win more votes than Bolsonaro if he were to run in 2022 - the only politician to do so of those currently in the field.

“If Lula does run in 2022, it’s set to be an explosive campaign”, writes BBC South America correspondent, Katy Watson. “Lula remains very popular” and Bolsonaro “has been heavily criticised for his handling of the pandemic”.

“No matter what, the two men are set to dominate politics in the months to come.”

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