SAO PAULO (AFP) – Former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva launched his campaign for a new presidential term on Saturday (May 7), vowing to rebuild Brazil after what he called the “irresponsible and criminal” administration of far-right incumbent Jair Bolsonaro.
The campaign launch sealed a remarkable political comeback for the 76-year-old leftist icon, four years after he was jailed on controversial corruption charges.
“We’re ready to work not only to win the election on Oct 2, but to rebuild and transform Brazil, which will be even more difficult,” the charismatic but tarnished steelworker-turned-politician told a rally in Sao Paulo.
“We need to change Brazil once again… We need to return to a place where no one ever dares to defy democracy again. We need to send fascism back to the sewer of history, where it should have been all along,” he said, in his trademark gravelly voice.
It was hardly a secret Lula, who has enjoyed a long – though shrinking – lead in the polls, would jump into the campaign, which does not officially start until August.
Lula, who led Brazil through an economic boom from 2003 to 2010, has been in unofficial campaign mode since March last year, when the Supreme Court annulled the corruption convictions that sidelined him from politics.
The Supreme Court’s finding of bias on the part of the lead judge in the case, Sergio Moro – who went on to become Bolsonaro’s justice minister – instantly set up this year’s elections as a polarizing clash between arch-enemies Lula and Bolsonaro.
Lula left office 12 years ago with approval ratings of 87 per cent, after presiding over a golden period that lifted some 30 million Brazilians from poverty.
But the onetime shoeshine boy’s towering legacy came crashing down with the explosion of “Operation Car Wash,” a sweeping investigation that uncovered a massive corruption scheme centered on state-run oil company Petrobras.
Lula was convicted on bribe-taking charges and sentenced to 26 years in prison.
He started his sentence in April 2018, removing him from that year’s presidential race, which Bolsonaro won on a wave of outrage against Lula and his Workers’ Party (PT).
Lula, who calls the case a conspiracy, was released pending appeal in November 2019 but was barred from politics until last year’s ruling.