Former president Lula de Silva was leading in early polling in the Brazilian election, but is most likely going to be watching the campaign through prison bars.

The Porto Alegre's Regional Court rejected former Brazilian president Lula de Silva’s appeal on Monday, yet another decision against the leader of the Workers’ Party (PT) after a similar ruling from the Superior Court of Justice earlier this month. As a result – and despite leading in the polls for the presidential election later this year –  Lula’s immediate future seems to be in prison.

His last hope rests in the arms of a Federal Supreme Court unlikely to reverse his fate early April.

The upcoming Brazilian presidential elections have become even more uncertain with no candidate clearly breaking away from the pack. Lula’s absence should benefit left-wing candidate Marina Silva who could snag the votes of PT supporters after two unsuccessful runs for the presidency. She was Lula’s former Environment Minister and her tiny green party will be strongly opposed by agribusiness and mining companies throughout the campaign.

However, in a country marked by a profound rejection of the political class, symbolized by current President Temer setting new historic records of unpopularity, her chances are now realistic.

Silva currently trails behind far-right candidate, Jair Bolsonaro, often labelled the Brazilian version of Donald Trump. His pro-gun, evangelical political platform, marked by a nostalgia for the days of military dictatorship, has drawn the support of the wealthiest segments of Brazilian society and pro-business organisations.

Bolsonaro’s lead in early polls in the absence of Lula, should however not guarantee him a victory in a two-round ballot as his positions are too extreme to build alliances with others. 

Amid this polarisation, no centrist politician seems up for the task of filling the vacuum. 

Moderate candidates and political veterans such as Geraldo Alckmin and Ciro Gomes have failed to gain any momentum among an electorate disheartened by the never-ending corruption scandals.

It might very well be the year for an out-of-the-box contender patiently waiting to announce a bid. Forewarned by the collapse in the polls of Sao Paolo mayor, Joao Doria, who trumpeted his intentions too soon, several political newcomers are waiting to formalise their interests. 

Among them, two names are regularly mentioned as serious options: former Chief Justice Joaquim Barbosa and TV celebrity Luciano Huck. 

Barbosa has made a name for himself championing the fight against corruption during his tenure at the helm of the Federal Supreme Court. His lack of political experience will be less of an obstacle than the fact that Brazil is probably not ready to elect a black president.

Luciano Huck’s media personality, however, and his main-street appeal match better with the average Brazilian voter despite the absence of a track record. The TV presenter has already denied twice that he’s contemplating a run for the presidency but the constant courting from business circles and his recent statements on the need to fix Brazilian politics have only reaffirmed speculations about his real intentions.

But whoever ends up battling for Brazilian leadership will have to offer answers to a country-continent suffering from high insecurity, economic sluggishness, endemic corruption and societal crisis.

Over the last two years, the Brazilian currency has lost a quarter of its value, the unemployment rate remains above 12 percent and the lack of economic reforms hinders the foreign investments that have helped keep the economy afloat over the last few years.

The economic slowdown and corruption scandals have also deepened a rampant societal crisis across the country, best embodied by the state of Rio de Janeiro. The iconic Brazilian tourist destination, plagued by gangs and violence, was stormed last month by military forces in the hopes of preventing chaos across a region where someone dies every 90 minutes of gun violence and gang rivalries.

In February, a 3-year-old girl, Emily, died in her parents’ car when carjackers panicked and shot in her direction.The ensuing public outcry and condemnations during the traditional Carnaval do Brasil had little impact. 

On March 14th, Marielle Franco, a local representative, born in one of Rio’s poorest favelas and known for her denunciations of police violence, was shot at gunpoint in the back of her car. The political assassination of this outspoken critic of military intervention is symptomatic of a growing schism in the carioca society, and in Brazil in general.

For some, the rise of insecurity and contestation demands a stronger answer and military rule is a welcome relief. The left, however, is keen to remind everyone of the dark years of the military dictatorship and the regular exactions committed by death squadrons throughout the 1980s.

The deployment of “peacemaking police units” in the Rio favelas over the last ten years have had little impact, if any. In fact, several cases of corruption between drug traffickers and underpaid police officers have been making headlines since 2008.

In this climate of rising insecurity, corruption and economic recession, Lula will be portrayed as a political prisoner by the many who worship him. Others however will underline the embezzlement he was proven guilty of and look for a rare candidate not tainted by the endemic corruption in the country.

In such a divided country, the next president will have his work cut out for him. Relieving the conflicting exasperations of a young society whose enormous potential is dwarfed by insecurity and corruption will be a daunting challenge.

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