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What Lula’s Return to Politics Could Mean for Brazil

Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva speaks in Brazil, on March 10.

Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva speaks in Brazil, on March 10.

Photographer: Victor Moriyama/Bloomberg

Brazil’s political landscape was upended by the decision of a Supreme Court justice March 8 effectively tossing out the criminal convictions of former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. The ruling gives the leftist leader widely known as Lula a chance to run again for president in the 2022 election against the incumbent Jair Bolsonaro, a right-winger. The judge’s move surprised his peers on the top court and even Lula himself, according to local media. The news initially sent stocks and the currency plummeting on fears that campaigning for next year’s vote may start earlier than expected, distracting lawmakers and potentially derailing the approval of investor-friendly reforms.

Lula was found guilty of corruption and money laundering in 2017 by then-federal judge Sergio Moro. Based in the southern city of Curitiba, Moro was in charge of cases uncovered in an investigation called Carwash involving a giant bribery scheme at the state-owned oil company, Petroleo Brasileiro SA, known as Petrobras. After Lula’s convictions were upheld on appeal, he was disqualified from serving in political office, and he ended up spending more than 500 days in jail. Nearly four years later, Justice Edson Fachin ruled that Moro had no jurisdiction in the case. Fachin argued that Moro was only supposed to decide cases in which Petrobras was harmed and that these didn’t include Lula’s. The justice didn’t rule on whether Lula is guilty or not; his decision focused solely on procedures that led to the ex-president’s conviction, not on the merit of the charges against him.