A Brazilian judge on Thursday ordered former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva to turn himself in to police within 24 hours to serve a 12-year sentence for a graft conviction, likely ending the presidential front-runner’s hopes of returning to power.
Lula was convicted last year for taking bribes from an engineering firm in return for help landing contracts with state-run oil company Petroleo Brasileiro SA.
Earlier on Thursday, Brazil’s Supreme Court rejected Lula’s plea to remain free until he exhausts all his appeals, in a case he calls a political witch hunt.
The ruling likely ends his political career and blows October’s election wide open.
Technically, Lula could still run. Under Brazilian electoral law, a candidate is forbidden from running for office for eight years after being found guilty of a crime. But some exemptions have been made in the past, and the ultimate decision would be made by the top electoral court if and when Lula officially files to be a candidate.
But that is considered unlikely and Brazilian financial markets rallied on Thursday after the Supreme Court decision, which increased the chances a market-friendly candidate will win the election, according to analysts and political foes.
A defiant Workers Party, founded by Lula, said its supporters would take to the streets to defend his right to run. The party called for a Thursday night rally near Lula’s home.
“Lula continues to be our candidate, because he is innocent, and because he is the leading candidate to become the next president of Brazil,” said Workers Party leader, Senator Gleisi Hoffmann.
Federal Judge Sergio Moro, who has handled the bulk of cases in Brazil’s biggest anti-corruption effort, ordered Lula to turn himself in by late Friday afternoon. In a court document, he wrote that Lula should not be handcuffed and would have a special cell in the southern city of Curitiba, reports Reuters.
Lula led Brazil in two four-year terms as president, from 2003 to January 2011, years of prosperity that were fueled by a commodity boom. He left office with an approval rating higher than 80 per cent.
His endorsement was enough to get his hand-picked successor Dilma Rousseff elected twice. She was impeached and removed from office amid corruption scandals and economic crisis in mid-2016.
Now, his backing for a candidate would not be enough, analysts said, adding that voters will likely abandon his party in droves when they see that its charismatic leader was no longer in the game.
“The Workers Party will have to move quickly to Plan B, which is former Sao Paulo mayor Fernando Haddad, or even Plan C to back a leftist from another party like former Ceara state governor Ciro Gomes,” said Lucas de Aragao, a political analyst with Arko Advice in Brasilia.