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Lula, touched but not sunk

Ⓒ AFP – NELSON ALMEIDA – | The former president of Brazil, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva (C), speaks during a demonstration in Sao Paulo on January 24, 2018.

The court of appeal that confirmed the conviction of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva for corruption distanced the Brazilian exmandatario’s possibilities to appear in the presidential elections of October, although without definitively sinking his candidacy.

The ruling has created a climate of unprecedented uncertainty in the country, since Lula leads the polls but could be declared “ineligible” shortly before the vote.

The three magistrates of the Federal Regional Court No. 4 (TRF4) of Porto Alegre (south) declared on Wednesday as expected that the former president is guilty of passive corruption and whitening, for having received from the construction company OAS a triplex of 300 m2 in exchange for his mediation to obtain contracts with Petrobras.

Lula pleads not guilty, says he never received even the keys to that apartment and attributes the sentence to a conspiracy to invalidate his candidacy.

But the first effect of that failure was to increase the militancy of the union ex-leader, 72 years old.

“Now I want to be a candidate for the Presidency of the Republic,” he proclaimed before thousands of supporters shortly after hearing the sentence, which increased his initial sentence of 9 years and a half to 12 years and a month.

The analysts of Capital Economics consider that “the unanimous verdict [of the three judges] reduces the possibilities of Lula’s appeal”.

– “A dramatic situation for democracy” –

Ⓒ AFP – NELSON ALMEIDA – | A man wears a ribbon on his forehead in favor of former president of Brazil Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, on January 24, 2018 in Sao Paulo.

The supporters and detractors of the exmandatario (2003-2010), who demonstrated Wednesday in Porto Alegre and Sao Paulo, will continue to evaluate the fairness of the sentence in diametrically opposed ways.

The former accuse the justice system of having been suspiciously quick to act against the emblematic figure of the Brazilian left, and they allege that the evidence against Lula obtained through agreements of “awarded accusation” with other defendants is very fragile.

The latter estimate that Lula and his Workers’ Party (PT) are, like all the political formations of the country, corrupt, so he deserves to go to jail.

Lula faces six other causes, most of them for corruption.

“The theme of the triplex is far from being the most serious,” said Leandro Paulsen, one of the three judges from Porto Alegre.

The judicial defeat of Lula will have important consequences in the presidential elections and will probably unleash a long judicial battle, nine months after the largest Latin American economy goes to the polls.

“It’s an unprecedented situation in Brazil,” says Fernando Schüler, of the Insper Institute. “Lula is the favorite of the elections and his candidacy is uncertain, this situation is dramatic for democracy.”

– 30% chance –

Ⓒ AFP – Anella RETA – | Condemnation of Lula was confirmed

The ruling “complicates Lula’s career towards the presidential elections, but does not slow it down,” says Capital Economics. “He has a 30% chance of being in contention.”

The evaluation of Eurasia Group analysts is similar. “His presidential bid has not been buried (…) That’s why we do not lower his chances of participating at less than 30%.”

Lula’s attorneys will be able to continue appealing to higher instances, until they reach the supreme court.

But criminal and electoral justice will act quickly, which will increase the chances of it being left out of the elections. Candidates must be declared before August.

According to the latest polls, more than a third of Brazilians are willing to vote for Lula, a figure much higher than that of his closest competitor, right-wing deputy Jair Bolsonaro, who has 17% support.

The conservative president Michel Temer, whose mandate has been affected by a series of scandals, will not opt ​​for re-election.

This situation can leave Lula free to reach power by third instead of Brazil, whose population is fed up with politics.

“Lula will probably continue to campaign whatever his legal battle is,” estimates Thomaz Favoro of Control Risks. “He will continue appealing until all possibilities are exhausted.”

The PT, on his side, is interested in “continuing to question judicial decisions so that Lula remains as the victim of a political trial,” he says.

His supporters will take to the streets and “there is a real risk of violent confrontations with the security forces.”

But the PT is no longer the formation of the golden years of Lula (2003-2010), but has become a “minority party in Congress,” says Fernando Schüler.

“The most it can do” is to mobilize its militants to “try to block some roads,” he estimates.

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