BRASILIA – Thousands of activists from Brazil’s MST Landless Movement arrived on Tuesday in Brasilia to back the presidential candidacy of former head of state Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, now behind bars on a corruption conviction.
Some 5,000 people arrived in the capital after setting out on foot last Friday from three cities located some 50 kilometers (30 miles) from Brasilia.
The activists marched to Brasilia to join officials of the Workers Party (PT) Wednesday in formally registering Lula’s candidacy for the Oct. 7 election.
Lula, a one-time lathe operator, governed Brazil from 2003-2011 and left office with sky-high approval ratings. He remains the country’s most popular politician and leads in the polls, despite his being behind bars since April.
PT chair Sen. Gleisi Hoffmann said on Monday that an election without Lula would be “illegitimate.”
The leader of Latin America’s largest center-left party cited cases of other politicians who managed to get elected despite the 2010 Ficha Limpa (Clean Record) law, which states that a defendant whose conviction has been upheld by an appellate court is barred from public office for eight years.
Lula’s corruption conviction was upheld on appeal earlier this year, though he has not exhausted the appellate process, and the Supreme Electoral Court cannot rule on whether to permit his name on the ballot until he registers as a candidate.
The PT announced that on Wednesday it will call a “big popular event” in the vicinity of the electoral court to back Lula’s candidacy.
Participating in that demonstration will be the MST activists who arrived in Brasilia on Tuesday, as well as members of other social movements who support the former leader’s aspirations to be elected president once again.
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.