Despite corruption conviction, former Brazilian president Lula ahead in 2018 presidential race

World Today

Former Brazilian president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva is the top contender for the country’s 2018 presidential elections. But a corruption conviction, if upheld, could bar him from running.

CGTN’s Lucrecia Franco reports from Rio de Janeiro.

Follow Lucrecia C. Franco on Twitter @LucreciaFranco

They chant “Lula is the warrior of the people”, and they come to see their candidate who, despite being sentenced to almost ten years in prison, is leading in the polls for next year’s election.

And he is defiant.

“I will come back to recover the self-esteem of this country,” he said, “to tell the poor that they can study, that they can have subsidized homes and jobs.”

Ironically, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva came to Rio to celebrate the 64th anniversary of Petrobras, the scandal-plagued oil giant behind his corruption conviction. Lula was found guilty of accepting bribes from a construction firm in exchange for helping the company win lucrative contracts with Petrobras.

But nothing seems to affect the former president’s popularity.

“The election without Lula is not going to happen,” Daniele Carvalho, a Lula supporter, said. “We the people will not accept it because without him it will be a coup, it will not be a democracy.”

According to the most recent Datafolha poll, 35 percent of Brazilians now say they would support Lula in a first round vote, up five percent from June.

And while Lula is free pending appeal, he is campaigning to win back the presidency for a third time. Some analysts say that if he is able to get the conviction overturned, he is likely to win again.

“The majority of the voters are choosing Lula because he is a reminder of the golden years of the Brazilian economy,” said Mauricio Santoro, a political analyst at Rio de Janeiro State University.

“And in a moment like this, when Brazil is facing its worst recession in over 100 years with unemployment breaking records, the memory of the good years is a very strong asset to any politician.”

Brazilians will go to the polls to elect a new president exactly one year from now. Whether Lula can overcome his legal hurdles and appear on the ballot remains to be seen.

But for these die-hard supporters, the man who helped lift millions out of poverty is the only candidate worthy of their vote.