Brazil’s former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva could soon be jailed on corruption charges after the Supreme Court denied a request to allow him to remain free while appealing a twelve year conviction for corruption charges.
The ruling in the early hours of Thursday marked an extraordinary turn of events for Brazil’s most popular politician, who left office in 2010 with an approval rating of more than 80%.
Supreme Court judges ruled against him by six to five after a marathon session. The decision could end Lula’s political career, and deepen divisions in the country, which has been racked by recent episodes of political violence.
Lula has said he is innocent and the charges are politically motivated to prevent him from running for president again in the October election. In an official statement, his Worker’s Party described the ruling as: “a tragic day for democracy and Brazil.”
Lula oversaw a period of sustainable economic growth, and his social policies helped lift millions of people out of poverty. He was leading opinion polls ahead of the election, despite his conviction and six separate pending corruption trials.
Recently, however, Lula became a more polarising figure as the economy struggled and multiple corruption allegations against him and his leftist Worker’s Party emerged, creating widespread anger amongst the electorate. According to the polling institute Datafolha, 53% want him jailed.
The decision is a serious blow to the political survival of Brazil’s first working-class president, whose career from a factory shop floor to high office is sinking in the corruption scandals that have rocked the political establishment and especially his Workers’ Party, which held power from 2003 until 2016.
Brazilian society remains deeply divided after Lula’s successor Dilma Rousseff was impeached and removed from office amid a corruption scandal and an economic crisis.
Lula’s supporters, made up of groups of left-wing social movements and trade union members, gathered in the capital Brasilia on Wednesday, while thousands of anti-Lula protesters took to the streets of 100 Brazilian cities the night before.
“The crisis that Brazil is in today comes from the bad planning and corruption of [politicians’] mandate, we’ll take ten years to recover,” said Douglas Grandini, a trained economist who works at a real estate brokerage who attended a protest anti-Lula protest.
The verdict was delivered by Supreme Court President Cármen Lúcia shortly after midnight on Thursday after a session that lasted more than ten hours. Lúcia’s vote against Lula was decisive, tipping the score 6 versus 5 against the former president.
The decision of when to issue the arrest warrant now lies with Sergio Moro, the judge who convicted Lula, hailed by some as a tough on crime, anti-corruption hero but accused by others of overreach.
The vote was overshadowed by tension after the commander of Brazil’s armed forces General Eduardo Villas Bôas tweeted on Tuesday that the army “repudiates impunity” and is “attentive to its institutional missions.”
The comments rattled many in Brazil, which from 1964 – 1985 was under a military dictatorship characterized by oppression, censorship and grave human rights abuses where thousands were killed or tortured by the regime.
“It is greatly disturbing that the Army Commander appears to be pressuring and threating the Brazilian Supreme Court,” said Amnesty International Brazil director Jurema Werneck.
Lula was found guilty last year and sentenced to 10 years in prison for accepting bribes worth 3.7m reais (£790,000) from OAS, the amount of money prosecutors said the construction company spent refurbishing a beach apartment for Lula in return for his help winning contracts with the state-run oil company Petrobras.
In January, an appeal court unanimously upheld his conviction and increased the prison sentence to 12 years.
Under Brazilian electoral law, a candidate is forbidden from running for elected office for eight years after being found guilty of a crime. Some exemptions have been made in the past, and the ultimate decision in Lula’s case would be made by the highest electoral court if Lula officially files to be a candidate for the October election.
This story originally appeared in The Guardian.