After Lula’s conviction, Workers’ Party faces crossroads

. Jan 26, 2018
Lula's conviction Workers' Party Brazil politics Workers' Party supporters. Photo: PT/BR
Lula's conviction Workers' Party Brazil politics

Workers’ Party supporters. Photo: PT/BR

The decision of a federal appellate court to confirm a corruption and money laundering conviction against former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva didn’t catch many people off guard. Analyzing the court’s track record of tough verdicts, most analysts and political actors were expecting that outcome. What did surprise many – including Lula’s Workers’ Party – was just how harsh the three-judge panel was: not only did the judges confirm the conviction, but they also raised the sentence by 2 and a half years to a total of 12 years and 1 month.

While Lula does have some appeals at his disposal, the more likely scenario will be his exclusion from the 2018 presidential race. The former president currently leads all polls, and would easily win if the election were held today. Of course, it won’t be. And Lula’s complicated legal status puts his party in a very uncomfortable situation. Hit by successive corruption scandals, it has been electorally shrinking for the past few elections – and the loss of its most important leader could spell doom for the political family.

According to Brazil’s Clean Record Law, candidates with convictions across multiple levels of justice, such as Lula, are ineligible to run for office. Ironically, the law was signed by Lula himself back in 2010. However, being declared ineligible doesn’t mean that Lula is out of the political landscape.

“Lula can help an ally by vouching for him. How much that’s going to count, however, depends on whether or not he’ll be in jail. If Lula is <a href="">arrested</a>, his capacity to campaign for someone and influence voters will, of course, be handicapped,” explained <strong>The Brazilian Report</strong> columnist Claudio Couto in an <a href="">interview</a>.</p> <h3>No alternatives</h3> <p>The Workers&#8217; Party was founded 38 years ago, supported by many intellectuals and members of the middle-class. Since then, Lula has been the sun around which the party has turned. In the first five presidential elections since Brazil’s redemocratization in 1985, Lula was his party’s nominee.</p> <p>Even after three losses – two of them without the need for a runoff stage – no other leader emerged as an internal contender because Lula didn’t allow it. The dominance he exerted over his party turned him into a unifying figure for the Brazilian left. Over and over, other political families to the left of the center have flocked to his coalitions. But as Lula has now suffered a major blow, that impact reverberates across the entire left.</p> <p>Lula’s fall from grace has been observed over the past few years. When he finished his two presidential terms, the politician enjoyed an approval rate of 80 percent. Today, roughly 40 percent of the electorate wouldn’t vote for him under any circumstance. The impact of that refusal has been felt by the Workers&#8217; Party.</p> <p>In 2010, at the peak of Lula’s popularity, his group elected 88 of the House’s 513 congressmen. Now, however, it has only 57 members in the House – its lowest number since 2002. That same trend of shrinkage has been observed in the Senate. In 2015, before Dilma Rousseff’s impeachment, the party had 13 of 81 senators. It now has just nine. And seven of those are in the last year of their terms, with only two having confirmed a run for reelection.</p> <p>That downfall is even worse at the municipal level. In 2012, the Workers&#8217; Party elected mayors in 644 municipalities. Four years later, it snatched only 256. No other party has lost that much influence. The Brazilian Social Democracy Party, which has stood in opposition to the Workers&#8217; Party for the past 25 years, has recently taken the <a href="">country’s crown jewel</a>, São Paulo.</p> <div class="infogram-embed" data-id="7be0c515-30af-46cd-844a-ea80181f3f42" data-type="interactive"></div><script>!function(e,t,s,i){var n="InfogramEmbeds",o=e.getElementsByTagName("script"),d=o[0],r=/^http:/.test(e.location)?"http:":"https:";if(/^\/{2}/.test(i)&&(i=r+i),window[n]&&window[n].initialized)window[n].process&&window[n].process();else if(!e.getElementById(s)){var a=e.createElement("script");a.async=1,,a.src=i,d.parentNode.insertBefore(a,d)}}(document,0,"infogram-async","//");</script> <p>Since the creation of the two-round system, the 2016 election was the only time in history that the outcome for Brazil’s wealthiest city was decided in just one round.</p> <p>One and a half years later, the losing candidate in that race, former Mayor Fernando Haddad, seems to be the party’s frontrunner to eventually replace Lula. His true electoral potential remains to be seen.</p> <p>If the Workers’ Party is serious about winning the presidency, it could be forced to turn to Ciro Gomes, a presidential hopeful for the Democratic Labor Party (PDT). A left-wing man, Gomes has a respectable curriculum, however comes off as too short-tempered to hold public office. In 2002, when facing off against Lula, Gomes saw his voting intentions plummet after calling a voter “an idiot.”</p> <p>Of course, the need to win seats in the House is not only a political move. Brazil’s public fund for financing campaigns splits between parties according to each’s representation in Congress. For example, if a party holds 10 percent of the House seats, it will receive 10 percent of the money. The same goes for free TV airtime during the campaign season.</p> <p>Meanwhile, traditional allies of the Workers’ Party, like the Brazilian Communist Party, are ready to launch their own candidates to the detriment of an alliance with the former president. While Lula remains Brazil’s most popular politician, he has apparently become a sinking ship.

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