Even by the standards of Latin America’s emotive politics, the nomination of Brazil’s convicted former President, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, to contest for a third term in the October election is sensational. The charismatic leader from the left-wing Workers’ Party (PT) has been serving a 12-year jail sentence since April in a bribery and money-laundering case. Mr. Lula may still have his candidacy overruled by the electoral body. But there are many factors why that uncertainty has not deterred his party from daring to nominate him for the country’s top job. In July, a federal judge with suspected PT sympathies ordered Mr. Lula’s release. Although the step was swiftly overturned, PT cadres were quick to seize upon the momentum generated by the initially morale-raising move. Despite the original July 2017 conviction, they have been fiercely protesting his innocence in a bid to project his candidacy for the coming election. A shot in the arm for the pro-Lula camp was an intervention from influential international quarters questioning the judicial process that led to the conviction. A number of U.S. Congressmen, besides former Presidents of Bolivia and France and a former Spanish Prime Minister, have called for an end to Mr. Lula’s detention. In addition, his poll ratings, at nearly 30%, are extraordinary for someone serving a prison term. Supporters are tapping into the perception of Mr. Lula’s innocence, and portray his persecution as a ploy to prevent him from seeking a third term.
Against this backdrop, PT delegates have, over the weekend, determined that, inside or out of prison, Mr. Lula is their best bet to capture the presidency. The party president even insists there is no Plan B, despite the considerable uncertainty over Mr. Lula being allowed to contest. Political opponents have sought to highlight the PT’s lack of a second-line leadership as the reason for it desperately clinging to a compromised Mr. Lula. On the PT’s own narrative, the 2016 impeachment of former President Dilma Rousseff was orchestrated by Opposition politicians who were facing criminal investigations. Her successor as President and the current incumbent, the centre-right Michel Temer, has been implicated on several charges of corruption and obstruction of justice. Few politicians have managed to escape the so-called Lava Jato, or Car Wash, investigations into misappropriation of public resources. Against this backdrop, the PT is clearly counting on Mr. Lula’s proven popularity, especially during his tenure from 2003 to 2011 when he became a global icon for his brand of welfare economics. The centre-right Brazilian Social Democracy Party and the centrist Sustainability Network Party have nominated as their presidential candidates Geraldo Alckmin and Marina Silva, respectively. But Brazilians must wait a while longer for confirmation whether Mr. Lula will make it to the final race.