The fall of Lula

The conviction of Brazil’s former President throws its politics into further disarray

April 09, 2018 12:02 am | Updated December 03, 2021 05:15 pm IST

The arrest of former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva after his conviction in a corruption case is a blow to his Workers’ Party, which hopes to return to power in the October general election. Mr. Lula da Silva, or simply ‘Lula’, had announced he would contest the poll, and was the front runner to become President. But after a federal judge rejected his request to remain free till his appeal options are exhausted, his eventful political career — which began as an organiser of metal workers when Brazil was under a dictatorship — seems to have come to an end. On Saturday he began his 12-year jail term, and asked supporters to “transform themselves” to keep the revolution going. Over the last few years, Brazil’s judges and prosecutors had launched a set of investigations into alleged corruption cases that became known as Lavo Jato, or Car Wash, targeting mainly Workers’ Party leaders. Dilma Rousseff, his chosen successor and Brazil’s first woman President, was impeached in August 2016 over allegations of cooking the country’s budget accounts. That brought an end to 13 years of Workers’ Party rule. With Mr. Lula da Silva now behind bars, the Workers’ Party, arguably the most powerful political organisation in Brazil with a strong base among the country’s poor and the working population, will face a challenge in its election campaign this year.

Prosecutors say Mr. Lula da Silva has been convicted in a proper trial and that he should be treated as any other citizen before the law. But his supporters as well as several international observers have raised questions about the judiciary’s stance. The case against him is that he accepted an apartment as bribe from a construction company as a quid pro quo for contracts granted. But there is no documentary evidence that either he or his wife owned the apartment, rented it out or stayed there. The evidence against him is the testimony of an executive of the company, which prosecutors got as part of a plea bargain. Still the judges found Mr. Lula da Silva guilty as they also concluded that the contracts given out to companies under his rule were overpriced. It is also no secret that several from the establishment elite wanted him out of politics. On the eve of the Supreme Court hearing of Lula’s appeal, the Army chief tweeted that the military “repudiates impunity”, apparently sending a message to the judiciary. By imprisoning its most popular leader on such weak evidence at a time when the polarised country is ruled by unelected elite, the judges may just have heightened the crisis in Brazil’s young, fraught democracy.

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