Ex-leader's release from jail fires up Brazil's parties

Supporters of Brazil's former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva in Rio de Janeiro last Friday celebrating his freedom. Mr Lula cannot run in upcoming elections, but his return strengthens his Workers' Party.
Supporters of Brazil's former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva in Rio de Janeiro last Friday celebrating his freedom. Mr Lula cannot run in upcoming elections, but his return strengthens his Workers' Party. PHOTO: REUTERS

BRASILIA/CURITIBA • Brazil's leftist former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva left prison last Friday after a judge ordered his release, startling financial markets and reigniting both ends of the political spectrum with calls for demonstrations in coming days.

As he walked out of the jail that held him for 19 months on a bribery conviction, Mr Lula raised a defiant fist in the air to the cheers of a crowd of supporters from his Workers' Party who waved red flags and held "Free Lula" banners.

His release is expected to further polarise a country that elected far-right President Jair Bolsonaro last year in a vote that Mr Lula said last Friday his Workers' Party was "robbed" of.

The Workers' Party governed the country from 2002 to 2016.

Investors were jolted by the prospect of Mr Lula returning to the political stage and uniting opposition to the market-friendly government, although he is barred from running in upcoming elections.

Brazil's currency and benchmark Bovespa stock index both fell on Friday, weighed down first by a Supreme Court ruling paving the way for Mr Lula's release and deepening losses after the formal court order letting him go.

"This will strengthen the Workers' Party, but also anti-Lulismo and that will strengthen Bolsonaro's movement too," said Mr Lucas de Aragao from Arko political risk consultancy in Brasilia.

 
 
 

The Workers' Party's weak coalition in Congress may limit the immediate impact on the government's proposed economic reforms, but Mr Lula's presence could strengthen the left ahead of next year's municipal elections.

"The big question for markets is whether he can run in 2020, and that is very unlikely," Mr de Aragao said.

A charismatic speaker and formidable campaigner, Mr Lula is ineligible under Brazil's Clean Record law to seek elected office until 2025. While he can engage in politics, his release from prison is pending appeals that may continue winding through the courts for years.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on November 10, 2019, with the headline 'Ex-leader's release from jail fires up Brazil's parties'. Print Edition | Subscribe