Brazil: Lula has convictions quashed, leaving him free to challenge Bolsonaro | Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva

Brazil’s former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva could be set for a sensational comeback attempt after a supreme court judge annulled a series of criminal convictions against the leftist icon and restored his political rights.

The ruling, which analysts called a political bombshell, means Lula is almost certain to challenge Brazil’s incumbent president, Jair Bolsonaro, in the 2022 presidential election.

“The election starts today … It’s virtually impossible Lula won’t be a candidate,” said Thomas Traumann, a Rio de Janeiro-based political observer. “In American terms, it’s going to be like Sanders versus Trump.”

The Valor Econômico, Brazil’s leading financial newspaper, declared: “Lula is back in the game.”

Lula was president of Latin America’s largest economy for two terms, between 2003 and 2011, and oversaw a historic period of commodity-fuelled growth and poverty reduction. The Workers’ party (PT) politician, who is now 75, had hoped to seek a third term in 2018 but was sidelined after being jailed on disputed corruption charges, paving the way for Bolsonaro’s landslide victory.

Lula was released from prison in November 2019 after 580 days behind bars but remained unable to seek election after being stripped of his political rights.

Speaking to the Guardian last April, the former shoeshine boy played down speculation he would challenge Bolsonaro in 2022 but accused the far-right former army captain of leading Brazilians “to the slaughterhouse” with his “grotesque” and “reckless” response to the coronavirus pandemic.

“You can be certain the left will be governing Brazil again after 2022,” Lula claimed. “We will vote for someone who is committed to human rights and respects them, who respects environmental protection, who respects the Amazon … who respects blacks and the indigenous. We’re going to elect someone who is committed to the poor of this country.”

Traumann said Monday’s ruling was an unmistakable turning point and potentially positive for those who wanted to see the back of Bolsonaro, under whose highly controversial watch more than 265,000 Brazilians have lost their lives to Covid-19. “If you are absolutely opposed to Bolsonaro, this is good news – because you have a candidate who is undeniably strong, popular and who can defeat Bolsonaro.

“The problem is that there is a pretty reasonable number of people who don’t want either of them [as president] – and if these people don’t get together and come up with a [third] candidate now, there will be no room for them,” Traumann added. “If the other candidates don’t decide to run now, by the time we get to next year things will be so polarised that there will be no room for a third candidate.”

Some believe Bolsonaro will also relish a potential election fight with the bearded former union leader who is a bogeyman for many conservative voters.

Lula supporters expressed joy at the decision on social media, with some using the hashtag #LulaPresidente2022. One PT ally tweeted a video of the septuagenarian politician pumping iron in the gym to the sound of a song by the Brazilian composer Chico Buarque called Tô Voltando (“I’m coming back”). “Fill the house with flowers because I’m on my way back,” its lyrics announce.

Meanwhile, there were signs of political heartburn from several personalities who have been trying to position themselves as supposedly centrist alternatives to Bolsonaro’s radical administration. Bolsonaro’s estranged former health minister, Luiz Henrique Mandetta, who is reportedly plotting a presidential run, tweeted: “The extremes rejoice because they feed off each other.”

Luciano Huck, one of Brazil’s best-known TV presenters and another potential contender, tweeted: “One thing’s for sure: you can’t complete a sticker album with doubles.”

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