The news hit Brazil like an earthquake. Former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, widely known as Lula, was suddenly free to run for president in next year’s election. That was the principal, if potentially reversible, result of a surprising decision issued Monday by a Brazilian Supreme Court judge, tossing out criminal corruption cases against the iconic leftist leader. The 2022 presidential race has now taken on a dramatic new player who poses a major threat to the reelection of Brazil’s controversial far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro.
The court ruling, which still faces possible challenges, sets the stage for an extraordinarily divisive election next year, with two personalities whose political views are polar opposites and who each inspire their own passionate supporters. Brazil has spent years in the grip of political acrimony, and the next election is all but certain to make it much worse.
The conventional wisdom is that the presence of Lula and Bolsonaro on the ballot all but forecloses the possibility that a centrist candidate could emerge victorious. But the conventional wisdom could be wrong. Brazilian voters, not unlike those in the United States, are exhausted from headline-grabbing, outrage-inducing, family-splitting political leaders. Just as the long-time centrist Joe Biden might have seemed too moderate and too low-key to take on Donald Trump last year, the appeal of a calm, steady hand during a time of crisis in Brazil could yet surprise the pundits.