Lula da Silva’s party chooses Plan B in Brazil race

Former Sao Paulo mayor Fernando Haddad speaks during an interview with Reuters in Sao Paulo, Brazil, April 17, 2018. Picture taken April 17, 2018. REUTERS/Leonardo Benassatto

SAO PAULO: Brazil’s left-leaning Workers’ Party announced Monday that former Sao Paulo Mayor Fernando Haddad will become its presidential candidate if, as expected, jailed ex-President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva is barred from running in the October election.

The announcement by party chairwoman Gleisi Hoffman immediately propels a candidate who has barely registered in the polls thus far to one of the leading contenders to become Brazil’s next president.

Hoffmann said that Haddad “will travel nationwide carrying Lula’s voice,” making him a surrogate for a once wildly popular leader who still garners much support despite mounting legal problems. Polls show da Silva with a clear lead in this year’s race even though a corruption conviction will almost certainly block his candidacy.

Da Silva says he is innocent and is still appealing the conviction, which by law makes him ineligible to run for office. However, Brazil’s electoral court makes final decisions on candidacies, and the Workers’ Party is holding out hope of the political equivalent of a miracle.

A 55-year-old economist, lawyer and university professor, Haddad was education minister under Workers’ Party Presidents da Silva and Dilma Rousseff, then won election as mayor of Brazil’s largest city in 2012. He oversaw improvements to transportation infrastructure in Sao Paulo along with a drug reduction program, giving him a reputation for competence.

But he proved an uncharismatic politician and failed to even make the runoffs in his attempt at re-election in 2016. So the party is gambling that voters will vote for an uninspiring candidate seen as da Silva’s man.

Political analyst Alberto Almeida, author of “The Vote of The Brazilians,” said he expects the link with da Silva means Haddad will at least propel him into the top two in the first round of voting on Oct. 7, qualifying him for the runoff three weeks later.