“Lula has the ‘I can make Brazil great again’” angle, said Monica de Bolle, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, based in Washington.
The political return of da Silva seems as inevitable to Brazilians as it is strange to outsiders. Despite the charges against him, the charismatic ex-president remains a larger-than-life figure here: A folksy former union leader and workingman who fought for democracy during the country’s dictatorship and then oversaw its rise to economic global power. His time in office, from 2003 to 2010, coincided with Brazil’s unprecedented boom, and he is revered by many for using those gains to pull millions out of poverty.
Perhaps just as importantly, recent political turmoil and the graft probe have left few other viable candidates on the left.
Still, the charges against him cast a shadow over a possible comeback. He left office with an 87-percent approval rating, but a Datafolha survey in December showed him leading a crowded field of presidential hopefuls with just 25 percent support.
In five separate cases, da Silva has been charged with crimes including accepting kickbacks or bribes, peddling influence and obstructing justice.
Before a conviction, it would be politically untenable to try to block da Silva’s candidacy, said Sergio Praca, a political scientist at the Fundacao Getulio Vargas university in Rio de Janeiro. da Silva has dismissed the charges against him as politically motivated and if they interfered with his candidacy, he would have even more ammunition to call foul, Praca said.
Even if convicted, da Silva might only receive a slap on the wrist, said de Bolle, who is also a professor at Johns Hopkins’ School of Advanced International Studies.
“Brazil has these supposedly very strict laws about who can run for president,” she said. “But, of course, Brazil also has a history of waving things off when they want to wave things off.”
Uncertainty about da Silva’s candidacy, Praca said, is emblematic of a broader instability in Brazilian politics, where the fates of dozens of politicians remain unclear because of corruption cases against them and the looming threat that more could be ensnared.