Former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, popularly known as Lula, was released earlier this month after more than 18 months in prison for corruption. “We are going to do a lot of fighting,” he told a crowd of cheering supporters in Sao Paulo, as he vowed that Brazil’s left would defeat far-right President Jair Bolsonaro in the 2022 election. But many questions remain, not only about Lula’s own legal woes, but about whether he can help overcome divisions among left-wing parties.
One of the co-founders of the main opposition Workers’ Party, or PT, Lula is still its dominant figure, having served as president from 2003 through 2010. He left office with record-high approval ratings and remains popular for policies that alleviated poverty and expanded access to education. But in 2017, he was sentenced to nine years in prison on corruption charges stemming from a sweeping anti-corruption investigation known as Operation Car Wash. The federal judge who sentenced him, Sergio Moro, is currently serving as Bolsonaro’s justice minister.
A judge ordered Lula’s release on the grounds that his imprisonment flouted due process, a day after Brazil’s Supreme Court ruled that convicted criminals should not be imprisoned while appealing their sentences, a decision that could benefit thousands of people in addition to Lula.