On Saturday evening, the polling institute Datafolha published its latest polling results for the 2018 presidential race. Once again, former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva leads in all scenarios, having on average 34 percent of voting intentions. Lula benefits from the fact that voters know him pretty well – and associate him with an era of prosperity.
But Lula might not even be on the ballot next year. Back in July, he was convicted of corruption and money laundering, sentenced to 9 years and 6 months in prison, and fined 669,700 BRL. The former president appealed the decision, and his status as a candidate for a third term depends on whether the verdict will be upheld. And according to Zero Hora, a local newspaper from Porto Alegre, we might discover the answer to that question sooner than later.
The paper reported that Federal Judge João Pedro Gebran Neto, the case’s rapporteur in the Federal Court for the 4th Region (south), has already analyzed the case. A trial will be settled as soon as Gebran Neto’s two fellow court members review his opinion, and form their own. It took exactly 100 days for the judge to issue his opinion on this case, which makes it the third-fastest decision by Gebran Neto among Operation Car Wash-related trials.
If the court of appeals confirms the first verdict by August 15, 2018, Lula will be declared ineligible and will not be on the ballot. If a confirmation of the conviction comes after that date, Lula will be able to run for office, but must wait for the Superior Electoral Tribunal to determine if his candidacy is legal.
Understanding Lula’s conviction
Lula was convicted of corruption and money laundering for allegedly owning a secret beachfront triplex apartment. According to the prosecution – and Federal Judge Sérgio Moro – Lula received the flat as a kickback from a construction firm. In exchange, Lula allegedly protected the company’s interests within the federal government.
The former president is a defendant in other six cases related to Operation Car Wash, and is suspected of corruption in another three investigations. He will only be arrested after a conviction by a court of appeals.
Who’s the judge in charge of Lula’s fate?
Born in Curitiba (Paraná), João Pedro Gebran Neto was named as a federal judge in 2013. Before that, he served as a state prosecutor in Paraná between 1989 and 1993. By the end of that year, Gebran Neto became a first-degree judge in Cascavel, a small city in the countryside of Paraná. He also served in Londrina and Curitiba before being promoted to a seat in the Federal Court for the 4th Region (south).
Rapporteur of Operation Car Wash-related cases in the court of appeals, Gebran Neto obtained his degree at Curitiba’s Law College and received his master’s from the Federal University of Paraná. At Paraná, he was mentored by the same man who mentored Judge Sérgio Moro, the operation’s rapporteur at the first degree.
Like Moro, Gebran Neto is considered tough. His penchant for issuing harsh sentences and his stinginess when conceding privileges to defendants have earned him a reputation as the toughest judge in his court. Unlike Moro, however, Gebran Neto doesn’t rule on cases alone. Brazil’s court of appeals is formed by three judges, and a verdict is reached by a simple majority of opinions.
Who wins if Lula is out?
In one word? Everyone. Eight years after leaving office, Lula remains Brazil’s most popular politician. He is set to win in the runoff stage for next year’s election, assuming he is eligible. And according to all polls, no candidate as of yet has shown enough strength to challenge him in a one-on-one runoff stage.
The main victors could be far-right candidate Jair Bolsonaro. Until last year, Bolsonaro was considered a fringe candidate with virtually no chance of winning. Without Lula in the picture, Bolsonaro jumps to 22 percent of voting intentions and leads the race.
Marina Silva, the uninspiring third option, could also benefit. A moderate, she is not the first choice of many voters regardless of where they sit on the political spectrum. But if Lula isn’t on the ballot, she might emerge as the “anti-Bolsonaro” vote.
But while most of Lula’s adversaries – if not all – want him out of next year’s election, fear is mounting that he could become an even bigger political icon from prison.