Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, Brazil’s former president from 2003 to 2010, was officially nominated to compete in the country’s upcoming presidential election by the country’s left-wing Workers Party (PT), positioning the former leader to become the most significant challenger to incumbent President Jair Bolsonaro.
The vote—held on Thursday at a hotel in Sao Paulo—amounted to a mere formality, as da Silva, commonly known within Brazil as “Lula,” has retained an astronomical approval rating within the PT and was not seriously challenged for the nomination. To appeal to moderate voters distrustful of Lula’s left-wing background, the PT also nominated former Sao Paulo governor Geraldo Alckmin, a pro-business centrist, as his vice president.
Lula did not attend his own inauguration, opting to continue campaigning in his home state of Pernambuco in northeastern Brazil. As his candidacy was confirmed, however, the former president celebrated in a theater in Recife, Pernambuco’s capital, alongside several prominent supporters.
Polling within the country projects Lula as the heavy favorite in the upcoming election, which is scheduled to be held on October 2. If the former president’s high favorability in polls translates to an election victory, it would mark a stunning comeback for the politician. In 2017, Lula was convicted on corruption charges related to Brazil’s expansive “Operation Car Wash” anti-corruption campaign and sentenced to nine and a half years in prison. Lula ultimately spent eighteen months in prison before his conviction was annulled and he was released. During his imprisonment, he attempted to contest Brazil’s 2018 presidential election and polled favorably, but his candidacy was ultimately blocked by Brazil’s Superior Electoral Court. The PT’s replacement candidate, Lula's protege Fernando Haddad, lost decisively in that election to Bolsonaro and his right-wing populist Social Liberal Party.
During Lula’s tenure in office from 2003 to 2010, he was credited with significantly expanding the Brazilian economy and reducing poverty through generous social spending, including the Bolsa Familia program, which provided cash transfers to poor Brazilian families if they met certain criteria, such as accepting vaccinations and keeping their children in school. Some of these gains have been reversed under Bolsonaro, who has been widely criticized for his handling of the Covid-19 pandemic. Bolsonaro, who styled his leadership after that of President Donald Trump, openly questioned the seriousness of the disease, promoted non-scientific treatments such as hydroxychloroquine, and refused to pursue mask or vaccine mandates. These factors led Brazil to suffer one of the highest per capita Covid-19 death rates in the world and prompted a Brazilian Senate commission to call for the president’s indictment on charges of crimes against humanity.
“I didn’t need to be president again,” Lula said during one rally. “I could save my diploma of ‘best president ever’ and live the last years of my life quietly. But I saw this country being destroyed…so I decided to come back.”
Trevor Filseth is a current and foreign affairs writer for the National Interest.