Why Lula is not officially declaring his candidacy for President anytime soon

Lula during a speech on March 19th, in an event by the São Francisco River transposition works (Beto Macário / Uol)

Since former president Dilma Rousseff was impeached, supporters and members of PT (the Worker’s Party) see in Lula the best, or only, chance to get back in the presidential seat. Recent polls even spurred this assumption, by showing that the ex-president leads voting intention for next year’s election.

Since the corruption schemes were uncovered by the Lava-Jato investigation, PT’s credibility plunged beyond fast repair. But, as it is commonly said, if PT is Lula, Lula is not PT. While his decisions are usually undisputed within the party, members of the Executive and electors seemingly don’t relate his politically very successful trajectory with PT’s trajectory. So the main point of debate among Lula’s allies has been when — and not if — he would officially declare his candidacy.

In Brazil, candidates for Executive seats are usually only officially nominated by their parties in the first semester of electoral year. But some of his supporters were defending an early candidacy as a way to prevent division among left parties. Another reason is that Lula is currently being judged for supposedly use his influence to favor companies in State deals in exchange for gifts, such as the reform of an apartment. The Judiciary system in Brazil, especially in the Federal instances, tends to be partisan and a number of Lula’s allies suspect that he could be found guilty even if innocent, to prevent his candidacy.

So, by declaring himself early on a candidate, Lula would build pressure. In the current delicate Brazilian political and social context, condemning a popular ex-president and current leader of voting intentions could lead to massive demonstrations and put the country in a deeply unstable situation.

But last Friday, 24, the president of PT Rui Falcão announced the nomination would be postponed at least until the end of the year. And that move is more aligned with Lula’s style. Lula understands politics as a game of diplomacy, in which what is happening is more important than what will happen.

By making his candidacy official earlier, the ex-president realizes he would be the only official candidate for at least 6 months. A scenario in which he would be pressured to express opinions to every move the current government makes. Still, any speech in any event could be legally understood as campaigning, which is forbidden until 45 days before the Election Day.

And any answer could lead to a different kind of criticism. Not a criticism to the political figure with a praised past, but to the candidate, the only official candidate. Other potential candidates would let him face the spotlight for as long as possible and incite every possible kind of tension to undermine the candidacy.

Lula would also have problems with forging alliances. Some of the parties, especially the smaller ones, wouldn’t attach themselves in a campaign without having a clearer view of the race. Those that would could come at a high political cost, since this early candidacy is, in political timing terms, an uncertain move.

Preventing risks

With all these challenges, Lula perceives as a more efficient strategy to use a “what if” card until the last possible minute. Any formal statement about the candidacy will come from other PT leaders, while Lula will make mostly insinuations. For example, in an event last March 19th, he stated that if he were to run, “it would be to win”.

Actually this event seems it was the first of many to come, to support this strategy. They cannot be considered officially a platform for campaign, but Lula can use them to promote in people’s mind the idea of his candidacy while feeling which way the wind blows.

This strategy makes less pressure to his trial, but prevent significant electoral political risks. It also gives Lula ground to forge future alliances using the hypothesis that, if he finds himself convicted, one candidate will have a very powerful support: the political figure with a praised past that was wrongfully not allowed to be candidate.

And since PT is lacking popular political leaders, in this scenario it is possible Lula could choose someone outside PT, a highly strong argument for any of the left or center-left parties. Yet, in this case PT, one of the three major parties in Brazil, would have to settle for the sidekick seat, a position it has never been in any presidential races since 1989. A tough sell in a game where power and vanity often walk hand in hand.

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