Brazil in crisis: did Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s long jail sentence hurt his election chances?

Fifty-eight years after his election, Lula Is Staging a Comeback. Can He Bring the Country Along?

Brazil’s unpopular leader, Dilma Rousseff, was impeached in 2016 over budget irregularities, the third in a string of unpopular leaders defeated by waves of the Brazilian “resistance”. Facing challenges both domestic and global, this is a comeback worth watching. After two years of recession, social unrest, corruption scandals and rising murders, Brazil is ready for a political comeback.

The story so far

Brazilians asked for change at the ballot box in the 2014 election. Determined to appease a populist insurgency that ousted the first president to come from the Workers’ party, President Dilma Rousseff and her chief of staff, José Dirceu, two ex-AFL-CIO union leaders, took power in an auto-immune, peace-war culture reminiscent of the era of the Sandinistas in Nicaragua. Amid Brazil’s harshest recession on record, unemployment shot to historic highs.

Austerity: economic crisis, huge recession and tens of thousands in police custody Read more

The PDLC and other breakaway leftists criticized the government’s handling of the economy. That, and scandals that engulfed the ruling party, forced Dilma Rousseff to step down. Brazil’s economy bounced back in 2016, albeit at a snail’s pace.

The “resistance”, looking for a different path to power, elected Jair Bolsonaro to lead the Social Democratic party. But he proved unelectable as he railed against illegal immigration and defended Brazil’s 1964-1985 military dictatorship. A far-right presidential candidate came within a whisker of the ticket’s top ticket.

The reaction

Polls predict Bolsonaro will lose to the more moderate Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in October. As of 3 May, Lula had a 14-point lead, with 53% of the vote, against 33% for Lula. A recent poll found two thirds of the electorate would prefer the moderate Lula versus Lula. The next battle is likely to determine if he can be the moderate Lula.

“Lula has been in jail for 11 months, doesn’t have his normal mobility, talks only in English when he’s out, his voice is hoarse, and can only walk with assistance. But polls show he still has a strong support base,” wrote the New York Times. “While that support might erode in the run-up to the election, many of his core supporters are unlikely to give up just yet.”

Watch the moment Bolsonaro is given a free pass from electoral authorities:

Lula’s fans believe he is being denied the chance to run for the presidency because he was sentenced to 18 years in prison over graft charges. He is appealing against the verdict, and says it will not affect his campaign.

“The ruling is unjust, this is the true problem and why I chose to start this campaign,” he said last month, reiterating he will not serve jail time if he is re-elected.

The fiscal crisis facing Brazil poses the most important challenge to Brazilians. The term of the current president, Michel Temer, expires in January 2019. Lula says he will change the constitution to return to a presidential election a year after a president ends their mandate. And Lula says Brazil’s poor are to blame for Brazil’s hardships, not its leaders.

Lula has promised tax cuts, an extra half-point cut in the value-added tax and an expansion of a pension programme. He said a crucial reform will be easing labor laws to make it easier to hire and fire people.

Why should you care?

Brazil is set to be the largest economy in the South American region in the next decade, thanks to low oil prices, high population growth and investment in the transportation sector.

Brazil’s economy has been in a recession since 2016. The seventh since the creation of its constitution in 1985.

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