Lula soap opera making mockery of Brazil's legal system, says expert

by Louis GENOT
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Supporters of Brazil's former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva have repeatedly demonstrated, like this protest in July, to demand his release from prison after his corruption conviction

Former Brazil President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva's on-off prison release following a corruption conviction risks undermining the country's legal system, a legal expert told AFP.

Brazil's political scene was thrown into tumultuous uncertainty on Sunday when it was initially announced that a judge had ordered Lula -- serving a 12-year sentence for accepting a bribe -- be released from prison, only for a more senior judge to later overturn that decision.

As it turned out, Lula's Workers Party (PT) had contested his imprisonment at an appeals court in Porto Alegre where judge Rogerio Favreto was on call.

Favreto, who Brazilian press were quick to point out was a PT member for almost 20 years and several times worked as a consultant for Lula's government, duly ordered the former president's release.

But Ivar Hartmann, a law professor at Rio de Janeiro's Getulio Vargas Foundation, blasted the PT for making a mockery of Brazil's legal system.

"The Brazilian people should not pay the price of a demoralized justice system because of the PT's political strategy," he told AFP.

That's a very different message to that pushed by the PT after the latest setback in their bid to force Lula's name onto ballots in October's presidential election.

- 'Shamefulness' -

Unless he gets released from prison he will be unable to stand in the election.

"Such shamefulness from the Brazilian judicial system! Anything goes to undermine Lula and, by consequence, democracy and the Brazilian people," said PT president Gleisi Hoffmann on Twitter.

Hartmann, though, argued that the PT's strategy of denouncing the persecution of Lula won't win over voters.

"They're preaching to the choir. I don't think this strategy will have convinced those who are undecided," said Hartmann.

The latest episode in the Lula corruption soap opera came two days after the beloved national football team was unceremoniously knocked out of the World Cup by Belgium.

After a month of obsessing over star striker Neymar and the quest to bring home a sixth World Cup crown in Russia, Brazilians were quickly brought back to the domestic reality of political chaos.

A group of PT deputies timed their latest habeas corpus application to perfection, knowing full well the terrain was favorable with Favreto on weekend duty.

Two judges came out in opposition to Favreto, claiming he had overstepped his authority, and after a brief judicial arm-wrestle, president of the appeals court Carlos Eduardo Thompson Flores ended the drama and decided the ex-president would stay in jail.

Lula, president from 2003-2010, has been locked up for three months now, all the while protesting his innocence and decrying a political conspiracy.

He remains steadfast in his determination to run for a third term of office, even though the courts are likely to invalidate his bid.

- 'Worse than corruption' -

While Lula did not secure his release from prison, some believe this PT strategy will bear fruit, whichever candidate they eventually put forward.

Lula currently leads the polls ahead of far-right candidate Jair Bolsonaro and green nominee Mariana Silva.

And even if Lula is disqualified, analysts Eurasia Group believe "the PT is well positioned to go to a second-round runoff, probably against Jair Bolsonaro.

"In an election with many unhappy voters and low turnout, the candidates with a more mobilized base have better chances of standing out."

Should there not be an outright winner on October 7, a second round between the top two candidates will be held on October 28.

But while Lula's supporters lambast the politicization of the judicial system, so too do his opponents.

"In Brazil, ideology is worse than corruption," said Bolsinaro in a video published on social media, referring to the leftist Favreto's original decision to liberate Lula.

For her part, Silva, a former environment minister in Lula's government before going her own way, said Favreto's order had "provoked political turbulence that brings into question the authority" of the courts.

Lula's supporters are not giving up hope of seeing their hero run in October's presidential election

Lula's supporters have thronged out onto the streets of Sau Paulo to demand his release