Brazil’s October 2018 election could be decided on January 24

. Dec 13, 2017
lula 2018 election conviction Lula's trial will have major implications in the 2018 election. Photo: Filipe Araujo
lula 2018 election conviction

Lula’s trial will have major implications in the 2018 election. Photo: Filipe Araujo

On October 7, 2018, roughly 144 million Brazilians are expected to go to the polls and elect a new president, a new Congress, and new state governors. But the presidential race, which has all the ingredients to be one of the most contested – and nastiest – campaigns in Brazilian history, could be decided eight months prior.

</p> <p>The Federal Appellate Court of the 4th Region has scheduled for January 24 a trial that could bar former President Lula from the 2018 presidential race. On July 12, Lula was sentenced to 9 years and 6 months for corruption and money laundering. He was found guilty of accepting a beachfront triplex apartment as a bribe from a construction company.</p> <p>It wouldn&#8217;t be an overstatement to say that the court&#8217;s decision could determine the outcome of the 2018 election. If Lula&#8217;s conviction is to be upheld, he would be declared ineligible to run and would not be on the ballot. Moreover, Lula could also be sent to prison. A recent Supreme Court decision established that defendants could be imprisoned after a second conviction &#8211; without the need for exhaustion of remedies.</p> <p>Even <a href="">allies</a> of the former President are fearing the worst. They believe Lula will be convicted, and that the only way he will be able to run for president in 2018 is by getting a higher court to suspend his sentence. Court precedents are split in such cases, so there’s a chance for Lula.</p> <h3>Impact on the 2018 election</h3> <p>Lula currently leads all presidential opinion polls and remains Brazil&#8217;s most popular &#8211; and polarizing &#8211; politician. It is no coincidence that most candidates either present themselves as &#8220;anti-Lula&#8221; or as his ally. If he is acquitted, he would likely gain momentum and the support of most sectors of the left. Supported by roughly 35 percent of the electorate, Lula would most certainly make it to the runoff stage.</p> <p>The second spot will be fought between Jair Bolsonaro, a radical right-winger, Geraldo Alckmin, the uninspiring chair of the <a href="">center-right PSDB</a>, and Marina Silva, an environmentalist with little ability for grassroots politics. Whoever manages to craft an image of being the most viable “anti-Lula” candidate – that is, the person most likely to beat Lula in a head-to-head contest – could snatch the necessary votes.</p> <p>While Lula and Bolsonaro are by no means cut from the same cloth, they are both populists with an uncanny ability to spin the truth their own way. A clash between the two would certainly be nasty.</p> <h3>2018 election: What happens if Lula is convicted?</h3> <p>Without the most important face of the Brazilian left, the country would probably witness an extremely polarized race. It has become commonplace to compare this scenario with that of the 1989 race. In what was the first direct presidential election since the 1960s, a total of 22 candidates presented themselves. Then, there was also a feeling of rejection towards the political class, while the figure of the outsider was in vogue.</p> <p>In 1989, Lula, a union leader from outside of the establishment, contested a runoff with the eventual winner, Fernando Collor, who was then a young governor with a (misleading) reputation for fighting privileges.</p> <p>In a scenario without Lula, the election is up for grabs. Far-right candidate Jair Bolsonaro leads the polls with 21 percent, but is closely followed by Marina Silva. Plus, 29 percent of voters say they would vote for anyone vouched by Lula.</p> <p>If the former President does get a second conviction – but manages to have a favorable decision to suspend his sentence – then the election would be submerged in <a href="">uncertainty</a>. What happens if Lula joins the race, but then gets another conviction in the middle of the process? Worse, what if that were to happen <em>after </em>a potential Lula win?</p> <h3>The trial</h3> <p>Lula will be judged by a panel of three judges. The case&#8217;s rapporteur in the appellate court is Justice João Pedro Gebran Neto. 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. 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.</p> <p>Other members of the Workers&#8217; Party have been judged by the Federal Appellate Court of the 4th Region. The party&#8217;s former treasurer, João Vaccari Neto, for example, had two convictions overturned. But José Dirceu, Lula&#8217;s former Chief of Staff, had his sentence for corruption enhanced from 20 to 30 years.

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Gustavo Ribeiro

An award-winning journalist, Gustavo has extensive experience covering Brazilian politics and international affairs. He has been featured across Brazilian and French media outlets and founded The Brazilian Report in 2017. He holds a master’s degree in Political Science and Latin American studies from Panthéon-Sorbonne University in Paris.

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