Lula defies judge's order, says he won't surrender to police

Brazilian former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva said he would not abide by a judge’s order to surrender to federal police by mid-afternoon on March 6 to start serving a 12-year sentence for corruption, according to Brazilian newspaper Folha de S.Paulo (in Portuguese).

Folha says doubts remain over whether Lula, who spent the evening with supporters at the metalworkers union near São Paulo, would hand himself over to police in Brazil’s largest city of Curitiba, or whether police would have to arrest him at the metalworkers union in São Bernardo do Campo. However, Folha reported (in Portuguese) on March 5 that a faction of Lula supporters vowed to create a “human barrier” to stop police from arresting the former president.

Earlier, federal judge Sergio Moro ruled that Lula must hand himself over to federal police headquarters in the southern city of Curitiba by 17:00 on March 6.

“In relation to the condemned, ex-Presidente Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, I concede to him, out of respect for the dignity of the position that he occupied, the opportunity to present himself voluntarily to the federal police,” said Sergio Moro, the federal judge who is leading the Car Wash investigation, a corruption scandal that has dominated Brazilian politics and business.

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Moro’s decision came hours after Brazil’s top court, the Supreme Federal Tribunal, ruled 6-5 against Lula’s plea to stay out of prison while he appealed his corruption conviction for a second time. Lula was convicted of receiving a beachfront apartment in exchange for awarding government contracts to  construction firms.

The left-leaning former union leader and his supporters say the charges are politically motivated and meant to bar him from the country’s elections in October 2018, where he is a clear favourite.

Technically, Lula can still run for president (The Washington Post). However, under Brazilian law a person whose conviction has been upheld on appeal is barred from running for public office for eight years.

Earlier this year, Lula’s lawyers asked the country’s top electoral authority to make an exception for the former president while they make one final appeal (La Nación, in Spanish).

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But on February 6, Luiz Fux, the incoming president of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE), said: “The strict observance of the Clean Slate law in the 2018 elections is a fundamental pillar of the TSE’s performance. The Electoral Justice, as mediator of a sound political process, will be irreducible in the application of the Clean Slate” (O Globo).

Without explicitly mentioning the top candidate and founder of Brazil’s Workers’ Party, Fux added: “It’s worth saying: [those with] a dirty slate will be out of the democratic game.”

Lula remains one of Brazil’s most popular and divisive politicians, having raised millions out of poverty during his presidency in one of Latin America’s most unequal nations. His administration and that of Dilma Rousseff, his successor, were also plagued with allegations of high-level corruption – notably the Car Wash corruption scandal – and conservative voters blame them for Brazil’s economic recession, according to The Financial Times (may be behind paywall).

If not Lula, who?

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With Lula seemingly out of play, the country’s top office is up for grabs. According to a January 2018 survey by national pollster Datafolha, Lula led the race with 36 percent of the intended vote. Former military man and controversial right-wing politician Jair Bolsonaro was polling second with 18 percentage points, exactly half of Lula, with environmentalist and two-time presidential contender Marina Silva in third place with eight percent. However, the survey shows that in Lula’s absence between 24 and 32 percent of potential voters would cast a blank ballot.

Questions we’d like to explore, include

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  • What does this election mean for the future of Brazil? Politically, economically, socially, etc.
  • How is Brazil’s prolonged political instability affecting the region?
  • Will it help dispel or make worse voters’ badly damaged trust in the political system?
  • What are the chances of Lula successfully appealing his conviction before the elections?
  • If not Lula, who?
  • If Lula does enter the presidential race and win again, what might happen?
  • Who are some of the other presidential contenders?
  • Will Operation Lava Jato help bring about meaningful political reform, or make it impossible for politics as we know them in Brazil to continue?

Key facts central to the story

  • Operation Lava Jato and its political and economic ramifications
  • Historical low levels of trust in political leaders and overarching system
  • Accusations of judicial overreach

Who should we try to interview?

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