RIO DE JANEIRO – Brazil’s Communist Party did an about-face on Monday, dropping its independent presidential candidacy in favor of supporting former center-left President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who remains behind bars on a corruption conviction that is likely to keep his name off the Oct. 7 ballot.
The decision was the result of negotiations between the Communists and Lula’s Workers Party (PT) that began Sunday and went on into the wee hours.
It was only last Wednesday that the Communists designated Manuela d’Avila, a journalist and lawmaker with ties to the PT, as its presidential candidate.
Last Saturday, the PT formally nominated the 72-year-old Lula, who remains Brazil’s most popular politician and leads in the polls, as its 2018 standard-bearer.
The Communists said that the accord with the PT calls for D’Avila to campaign with Lula’s running-mate Fernando Haddad, serving as a proxy for the jailed former president.
Though not officially confirmed, PT sources told EFE that Haddad could replace Lula in the top spot on the ticket if the latter is barred by the judiciary from running, and that his place as vice-presidential candidate would then be occupied by D’Avila.
In July 2017, Lula was found guilty of accepting bribes in exchange for helping Brazilian construction company OAS obtain lucrative contracts from state oil giant Petrobras and sentenced to nine years and six months in prison.
On Jan. 24, an appeals court voted unanimously to uphold that earlier verdict and to increase Lula’s prison sentence to 12 years and one month.
The case against Lula, who vehemently denies any wrongdoing, is based largely on plea-bargained testimony from people already convicted as part of a sprawling investigation into a bribes-for-inflated-contracts scheme centered on Petrobras.
Lula, a one-time lathe operator and union leader, governed Brazil from 2003 to 2011 and left office with sky-high approval ratings.
Jurists say a 2010 Brazilian law known as Ficha Limpa (Clean Record) clearly states that a defendant whose conviction has been upheld by an appellate court is barred from competing for public office for eight years.
The chair of the PT, Sen. Gleisi Hoffman, said the decision to elect a candidate for vice president from its own party aims to guarantee that Lula is represented by one of its members.
“The PT repeats that we’re staying with Lula up to the final consequences,” she said.