The Workers’ Party will hold its national convention on August 4, during which it plans to launch former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva as the party’s presidential nominee. On the same day, supporters are being asked to fast for a day – in solidarity with Lula’s most fervent defenders, who will hold a hunger strike against their leader’s incarceration. On April 7, he was arrested and began serving his 12-year sentence for corruption and money laundering.
After Saturday, Brazil will officially be in uncharted waters, having a presidential candidate behind bars and dealing with the possibility of him recording political ads from prison. The former president’s defense team works with a timetable that would allow him to, at the very least, continue as a candidate – even from jail – when the television and radio campaign kicks off in late August.
According to the lawyers representing Lula, even if the Superior Electoral Court denies him the right to a candidacy, appeals and possible procedural delays could keep the jailed politician on the ballot for longer. Despite official statements, neither Lula nor the Workers’ Party have much hope that he will remain a candidate on October 7, when voters will head to the polls. But keeping Lula on the race for now is crucial to the party’s strategy. We explain why:
Lula’s strategy for the 2018 election
Lula is likely to be declared ineligible following his guilty verdict from a court of appeals in January. Brazilian electoral legislation forbids candidates with multiple convictions to run for office. But that “ineligible” status can only be given after a politician registers his candidacy at the Superior Electoral Court. And that’s why timing is crucial for Lula.
The Workers’ Party will register his candidacy at the eleventh hour: August 15, the eve of the formal start of the campaign. Therefore, from August 16 on, he would be able to place ads on social media and distribute campaign material across the country.
Even from jail, Lula remains Brazil’s most popular politician and one-third of the electorate would be willing to vote for him despite his corruption conviction and incarceration. But that’s not even the most impressive thing about the relationship between Lula and his voters. Thirty percent of people say they would “definitely” vote for someone vouched for by the former president, with an additional 17 percent saying they would consider doing so.
So it will be crucial for the Workers’ Party to give Lula’s image as much exposure as possible. Then, when the Justice system comes knocking, it would be time for Lula to anoint his replacement. It is certainly a risky tactic, but the former president is not willing to lose his control over the party he created and took to the country’s highest office in four successive elections.
But will Lula be able to campaign from prison?
This remains unclear.
For Lula to record television and radio ads from prison, he would need authorization from a federal court in Curitiba, where he is serving his time. Brazil’s penal code has not dealt with the issue, nor has the Superior Electoral Court, so far.
In the past, however, some regional electoral courts have ruled on the issue. In 2012, the court of Rondônia (a state in the North of Brazil) allowed a candidate for city council to record ads from jail. The judges considered that a candidate “with authorization to run for office has the right to record his political ads.” If that wasn’t the case, the court said, “his political rights would have been violated.”
There is a difference between that case and Lula’s, however. The Rondônia case didn’t involve someone with a conviction by a court of appeals – which suspends political rights for eight years. Not to mention the stakes in each case.
The Federal Police expects Lula to be able to record his ads and has already started planning for that outcome. What marshals fear, though, is that Lula could be allowed to leave prison in order to take part in debates. And that could be a logistical nightmare.
The script for his campaign
- August 4: The Workers’ Party holds its national convention, launching the former president as candidate for a third term.
- August 15: The deadline to register his candidacy ends at 7 pm. That’s when the party plans on filing it.
- August 16-21: The Electoral Superior Court publishes all candidacy registrations, allowing parties and federal prosecutors to challenge any name until August 21. After a challenge is presented, the case will be drawn to one of the court’s six justices (the Chief Electoral Justice not included).
- August 22-29: Lula’s defense will be notified of the challenge and will have seven days to present its case.
- August 30-September 4: Final statements of Lula’s defense and the Federal Prosecution Office.
- September 6 (approximately): After the final statements, the case’s rapporteur has 48 hours to take the case to trial. As Lula’s team will extend each possible deadline, the trial is unlikely to happen before September 6.
In the case of an adverse decision, Lula’s team can appeal to the Superior Electoral Court itself, which gives him an additional three days, and then to the Supreme Court.