Sao Paulo, Brazil – The decision of Brazil’s top electoral court to bar former president Luiz Inacio “Lula” da Silva from contesting the country’s polls in October has forced his party – and a large chunk of the Brazilian electorate – into a rethink.
After a marathon session, which began on Friday and concluded in the early hours of Saturday, the Superior Electoral Court deemed Lula’s candidacy to be ineligible under Brazil’s “Clean Slate” law, which forbids those with appeals court convictions from running for office.
The 72-year-old, who is currently serving a 12-year prison sentence for corruption and money laundering, has been a clear leader in all opinion polls held so far in the run-up to the October 7 elections.
His leftist Workers’ Party, which has promised to “fight through all means to secure his candidacy”, is expected to file an extraordinary appeal to the Federal Supreme Court this weekend.
Ricardo Ribeiro, a political analyst at MCM Consultores, told Al Jazeera that the success of the court appeal depends on which judge hears the case.
“If it goes to [Supreme Court Justice] Ricardo Lewandowski, there is a chance that he will grant an injunction in favour of Lula’s candidacy,” said Ribeiro.
|“Free Lula” posters at a rally of his supporters in Brazil. [Rodolfo Buhrer/Reuters]
What happens in Lula’s absence?
Still, the Workers’ Party is expected to decide on a new candidate to replace Lula – while its Federal Supreme Court request is pending.
According to the electoral court decision, the party has 10 days from Saturday to nominate a new presidential candidate, with all signs pointing towards Fernando Haddad, Lula’s running mate and a former mayor of Sao Paulo.
A party meeting is scheduled for Monday in the city of Curitiba, when Haddad’s candidacy is likely to be confirmed.
If Lula’s Supreme Court appeal is successful, the Workers’ Party will still be able to put the former president back on the ballot.
If not, the party will face the uphill task of transferring Lula’s votes to Haddad, a politician who is not instantly recognisable around the country and currently polls at just four percent.
“It’s the only strategy available to them,” said Ribeiro. “But Lula’s popularity means there is a good chance it will be successful.”
Indeed, Haddad can take heart in the fact that recent polls show 31 percent of the electorate would vote for any candidate endorsed by Lula, which would be more than enough to propel him into a potential second-round runoff with Jair Bolsonaro, a far-right candidate with the Social Liberty Party.
Far-right candidate a frontrunner
With Lula’s removal from the presidential race, Bolsonaro, a former army captain and Rio de Janeiro congressman since 1991, has emerged as a frontrunner.
Due to the long-perceived inevitability of Lula’s candidacy being blocked by the electoral courts, major pollsters have been conducting two different scenarios: one which includes the former president, and one without him.
In opinion polls without Lula, Bolsonaro appears ahead of all competitors, with a vote share varying between 20 and 22 percent.
Bolsonaro has managed to present himself as a credible outsider candidate, despite a track record of homophobic, racist and sexist statements.
The far-right politician has a belligerent stance on crime, declaring in a recent TV interview that police officers who “kill 10, 15, or 20 people” should be rewarded and not punished.
Speaking to Al Jazeera, Mauricio Santoro, a political scientist and professor of international relations at Rio de Janeiro State University, stressed that for a significant portion of voters, “Bolsonaro has been able to establish himself as the spokesperson for the feelings of anger and revolt which many Brazilians feel today”.
Bolsonaro is popular among young, educated, middle-class male voters. While his support appears to have hit a plateau, it has not yet dropped, suggesting that he has a solid voter base, which is likely to push him into the expected runoff, scheduled to take place on October 28.
To avoid a second round of voting, a candidate would need to win more than 50 percent of the votes on October 7.
What makes 2018 election different
In six of the seven presidential elections held since Brazil’s return to democracy in 1985, the two candidates with the most votes have come from the centre-left Workers’ Party and the centre-right Brazilian Social Democracy Party – a trend set to be bucked in the upcoming election.
Geraldo Alckmin, the Social Democrat candidate who is seen as “market-friendly”, is severely lagging behind in the polls, despite having the support of a vast coalition of centrist and centre-right parties.
Alckmin is also considered as the candidate of the establishment, a particularly damning title given that the current government, under President Michel Temer, is hugely unpopular.
Alckmin’s broad coalition may yet work in his favour, benefitting from the start of election campaign messages broadcasted on television and radio.
In Brazil, free airtime is distributed among the parties in accordance with their number of seats in the lower house of Congress, with Alckmin’s numerous alliances giving him the lion’s share.
In each commercial block of 12 minutes and 30 seconds, the Social Democrat candidate will be allotted five minutes and 32 seconds. In comparison, Bolsonaro will receive just eight seconds.
“Alckmin’s biggest opponent isn’t the Workers’ Party, as it has been in years past,” said Santoro.
“Now, it’s Jair Bolsonaro.”