Solidarity Needed as Brazil Heads to the Polls

Brazil heads to the polls this October for what will be the most volatile, unpredictable and important election since the country’s military dictatorship ended in 1989.

In the last two years, Latin America’s most populous nation has undergone political upheaval that started with the coup that removed Brazilian Workers’ Party (PT) President, Dilma Rousseff.

Once the elected President was out of the picture, the new administration led by Michel Temer quickly embarked on a mission to dismantle the progressive gains made in over a decade of PT Governance under Dilma, and her predecessor Lula da Silva, that saw over 50 million lifted from poverty.

Without a single vote from the public, the country took a rightward turn as social programmes were scrapped, workers’ rights rolled back, environmental protections removed and national assets privatised.

The impeachment was clearly less about tackling corruption, as the right-wing media had claimed, but about undermining democracy to implement hardline austerity policies that would have never been accepted at the ballot box.

With Temer ineligible and Dilma out of the picture, the presidential race appeared open until former President Lula emerged a potential candidate, still hugely popular from his time in office and fresh from national tours campaigning against the coup Government.

It wasn’t long before Lula faced the same trumped up claims of corruption that Dilma had faced.

In December 2017, Lula was charged and sentenced to 12 years in prison in what has been labelled a travesty of justice and a blatant attempt to stop his candidacy by many politicians, activists and legal professionals globally.

The charge was that he received a bribe, in the form of an apartment, from construction company OAS. The problem is that there is no evidence that Lula has ever owned the apartment. Shockingly, the entire case relies on the sole plea bargain of a convicted OAS executive, meaning Lula has been officially charged with carrying out ‘undetermined acts’ of corruption.

Even from jail, Lula continued to head every poll and thousands of Brazilians campaigned in his name, and when the UN Human Rights Committee declared that Lula had a right to contest the election it seemed as if the farce might come to an end.

Unfortunately, in an unprecedented move, the Supreme Electoral Court voted to ignore the ruling of the UN Committee and bar Lula from the election. They had finally removed the most popular candidate from the ballot, who would otherwise win if elections were held today.

While the Brazilian left have united around former Mayor of Sao Paulo, Fernando Haddad, as the replacement candidate, it remains unclear whether Lula’s popularity will transfer into votes.

This is particularly worrying as the second most popular candidate behind Lula is Jair Bolsonaro, the far-right politician who has made headlines for his open homophobia, misogyny, racism and open support for military dictatorships in Latin America.

The rise of the far-right in Brazil paints a picture that is becoming increasingly familiar internationally. People losing faith in their institutions and turning to hard-line figures who have positioned themselves as political ‘outsiders.’

This has been an election of twists and turns, and if Fernando Haddad fails to get Lula’s votes, over a decade of social progress could be lost for good.

The stakes couldn’t be higher – and our international solidarity more important!

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