Brazil’s top electoral court has barred jailed former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva from running in the upcoming presidential election.
The Supreme Electoral Court ruled on Friday that Lula da Silva, who is serving a 12-year sentence for a corruption conviction, cannot run for a third term, eliminating the front-runner ahead of the October’s election.
“I declare the ineligibility of the candidate Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva based on the first article, subsection one, letter A, items one and six, of the law 64 of 90 of the Clean Slate law and as a consequence, I reject his registration as a candidate to compete for the presidency in the 2018 elections,” said Luís Roberto Barroso, the judge presiding over the case.
Brazil's top electoral court also barred Lula from taking part in any election campaign advertising on radio and television.
Lula was the 35th president of Brazil from 2003 to 2011, with an approval rating of above 80 percent, and has been serving a 12-year prison sentence since April after being found guilty of money laundering and corruption. The 72-year-old veteran politician has dismissed his conviction as part of a plot to prevent him from returning to power.
Brazil’s most popular politician has been leading early opinion polls. Lula’s lawyers have said they would appeal the supreme court’s decision. Under Brazilian electoral law of Clean Slate, politicians are not authorized to run for office within eight years of being found guilty of a crime.
Lula’s Workers’ party, PT, registered its founder as its presidential candidate for the October 7 vote, arguing that he is innocent and the victim of political persecution.
“When you prevent the most popular leader in the country from running for election, the risk for Brazilian democracy is very high,” the president of the PT, Gleisi Hoffmann, said in an interview before the court ruling.
Running a campaign largely from his prison cell, the leftist leader has been able to garner nearly 40 percent of prospective votes for October’s presidential election, according to the latest polls. His nearest rival, far-right candidate Jair Bolsonaro, enjoys 19 percent of voter support.
The Workers’ party has until September 17 to replace Lula with another candidate or forfeit the presidential bid. The party is widely expected to cast Lula’s vice president, Fernando Haddad, as his replacement.
In mid-August, a United Nations panel ruled that Lula cannot be disqualified from the election because his legal appeals are underway. The Brazilian government, however, described the committee’s conclusions as a recommendation, saying it was not legally binding.
Lula is convicted of taking $1.2 million in bribes from Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht in return for granting the company public contracts. He also faces another six trials for other corruption charges, but has denied any wrongdoing.