Jailed Lula is endorsed by Workers’ Party for Brazil’s top job

Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, Brazil’s former president, centre, speaks outside the headquarters of the Workers’ Party (PT) in Sao Bernardo do Campo, Brazil. (Bloomberg pic)

SAO PAULO: Brazil’s left-wing Workers’ Party formally endorsed Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva in the upcoming presidential election, even though the former leader has been in jail since April on a corruption conviction.

The Workers’ Party, known by its Portuguese acronym of PT, pushed ahead with Lula’s candidacy during a convention on Saturday in Sao Paulo. “Our democracy is at risk,” Lula said in a letter read by a TV soap-opera actor at the event. “They want to rig the election.”

Lula denies any wrongdoing, saying he has been imprisoned to pull him out of the election race. The PT has yet to announce his running mate.

Lula leads opinion polls, but is likely to be barred from running because of his criminal conviction for corruption and money-laundering. While he remains hugely popular among the millions of Brazilians who saw their quality of life improve during his administration, he is also loathed by many for a sweeping corruption scandal and populist economic measures pursued by his party that helped trigger a crippling recession.

Trailing Lula in the polls are Jair Bolsonaro, a former army captain, and Ciro Gomes, a leftist former governor who has pledged to undo recent, market-friendly reforms. But the electoral landscape remains fluid. According to pollster Datafolha, roughly 80% of Brazilian women are undecided or intend to annul their vote.

On Saturday, other candidates were also endorsed by their parties for Brazil’s top job. The centre-right Brazilian Social Democracy Party, knows as the PSDB, backed Geraldo Alckmin, 65, in a convention in Brasilia.

“I want to reform the state,” Alckmin, Sao Paulo state’s former governor who ran an unsuccessful presidential campaign against Lula in 2006, said at the event. “The current state inefficiency suffocates Brazilians’ capacity to create businesses and innovate, while punishing those who invest, produce and create jobs.”

Alckmin’s candidacy got a boost last month after he secured a coveted alliance with a group of centrist swing parties, assuring him ample free advertising time on television. Late on Thursday, he confirmed Senator Ana Amelia as a running mate, a move seen boosting his standing among rural and female voters.

Former Environment Minister Marina Silva, 60, on Saturday was also named the official nominee for her party, Rede Sustentabilidade. Silva is making her third presidential bid even though her party has just three representatives in Congress.

With no clear favourite and many undecided voters, Brazil’s October presidential election looks the most uncertain since the nation’s return to democracy in 1985. Voters will head to the polls with memories of the country’s worst recession on record and a historic corruption probe fresh on their minds.