Brazil’s Lula quits presidential race, Haddad to run instead

CURITIBA, Brazil, Sept 12, 2018 (BSS/AFP) – Brazil’s jailed ex-leader Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva on Tuesday tapped his running mate Fernando Haddad to replace him on the ballot in next month’s presidential election, bowing out of the race after he was barred from seeking a new term.

The switch was approved at a meeting of the Workers Party in the southern city of Curitiba — where Lula has been held since April for corruption — as the clock ticked down on a court-ordered deadline for him to name a stand-in.

“The decision has been made,” a party official told AFP.

Hundreds of Lula supporters were gathered near the jail where he is being held. Haddad was expected to read a letter there from his mentor anointing him as his political heir.

The decision comes less than two weeks after Brazil’s Superior Electoral Tribunal ruled that the popular but polarizing former president cannot run while serving his 12-year prison sentence.

Though jailed, the 72-year-old Lula was the frontrunner in polls, and his removal from the race has scrambled the field, catapulting right-wing populist Jair Bolsonaro to the fore.

Bolsonaro, a polarizing figure who has been criticized for outbursts deemed racist, misogynist and homophobic, was stabbed while on the campaign trail last week.

He is not expected to appear at any rallies before the October 7 polls, but remains on the ballot.

Haddad, a former mayor of Sao Paulo who also served as Lula’s education minister, faces a race against time with the first round of voting less than a month away.

His ability to hold on to Lula’s base will be key if he and his expected running mate, youthful communist Manuela d’Avila, are to reach the second round, set for October 28.

– Clean slate rules –

Haddad’s political career put him at the center of the Workers Party, but without ever emerging from Lula’s shadow — and the 55-year-old has displayed little of the star power of his mentor.

A poll released Monday by Datafolha shows Haddad with nine percent support, up five points from a month ago.

That places him in a mix of candidates aspiring to go to a second round of voting against Bolsonaro, who currently is out front at 26 percent.

Lula’s supporters have been camped out outside the federal police headquarters in Curitiba since he was incarcerated.

The city is the epicenter of a sprawling corruption investigation that has brought to justice dozens of politicians and business leaders, including Lula, who was president from 2003 to 2011.

He was convicted in July 2017 of taking a bribe from a Brazilian construction company in the form of a luxury seaside apartment in return for contracts with state oil giant Petrobras.

Numerous appeals of the conviction and sentence have failed, and his lawyers also have been unable to get around rules that have kept Lula off the ballot.

He faces trial in five other cases, but insists he is the innocent victim of politically motivated prosecutions to keep him out of office.

A former metalworker, Lula rose as a union leader during Brazil’s military dictatorship, co-founding the Workers Party in 1980.

His presidency was credited with lifting millions out of poverty through generous social programs, transforming his party into a political powerhouse.

It has won the last four presidential elections, the last two by Dilma Rousseff, Lula’s handpicked successor who was ousted from power by Congress in 2016, accused of manipulating federal budgets. Current President Michel Temer, Rousseff’s vice president, replaced her.