Supporters of former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva demonstrate demanding his release on July 8, 2018 in the Brazilian city of Curitiba where he has been in jail since April for corruption, on a day with judicial orders and counter-orders on his release. A Brazilian appeals court judge on Sunday cancelled an order to free Lula da Silva, rescinding a ruling by another judge on the same court, but a second ruling again ordered his release. Judge Joao Pedro Gebran Neto forbid federal police from abiding by the unexpected earlier ruling allowing the release of the popular leftist Lula, who is serving a 12-year prison sentence for corruption. / AFP PHOTO / Franklin de FreitasFRANKLIN DE FREITAS/AFP/Getty Images
Supporters of former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva hold a rally demanding his release © AFP

Among the many things Brazil has in abundance — beautiful beaches, football players, exuberant rainforests, crooked politicians — are the ironies.

One recently highlighted in the local media is that the mayor of a town named Não-Me-Toque (literally “don’t-touch-me”), was accused of sexual harassment. Another is that neither of the two frontrunners for the October election may cross the finish line: one is unable to secure a coalition and the other is in jail.

With party conferences about to start, the divisive far-right former army captain Jair Bolsonaro is struggling to cobble together a coalition capable of securing decent airtime for campaigning. He cannot find a willing vice-presidential candidate. He has lost two already: an evangelical pastor and a military official. 

He has until mid-August to finalise his ticket. Securing support from legislative caucuses such as the evangelicals, the pro-gun lobby and the ruralistas is not enough. The failure of a strong electoral coalition between Mr Bolsonaro’s small PSL party and larger ones would leave him with scant airwave access, which is key.

Meanwhile, former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who has consistently led polls, is in prison and likely barred from running. As a recent legal brouhaha shows, he remains the overarching figure of this election, as he was in most since Brazil’s return to democracy in the 1980s, Brian Winter at the Americas Society/Council of the Americas argues.

His leftist PT party is sticking to its guns. Rui Falcão, a senior PT member, said this week “we’ll register Lula and, if not viable, someone else will be chosen to represent him. This will happen up to 20 days before the first round.” Whoever receives his imprimatur would inevitably be showered with votes. 

Potential dauphins are Fernando Haddad, a former mayor of São Paulo, and Jaques Wagner, a former governor of Bahia. Leftist Ciro Gomes has tried to lure in leftwing and centrist parties, but his rival Geraldo Alckmin of the PSDB is winning the battle to secure the support of a centrist bloc.

If the current trend continues, Mr Alckmin and Mr Lula da Silva’s anointed candidate would have stronger machinery and more television time for campaigning. This, as political consultant Thiago de Aragão noted, would indeed put Mr Bolsonaro and Mr Gomes vying with “two candidates who have better structures than they do”.

The powerful MDB party, with former finance minister Henrique Meirelles as its struggling candidate, may wait until the last minute to try to align itself with a likely winner. Ironically, despite a strong anti-establishment mood among Brazilians, established parties could still be the ones that dictate the future of their country.

In brief

  • Police and supporters of Nicaragua’s leftist president Daniel Ortega stormed the indigenous community of Monimbo in Masaya, a major stronghold of anti-government protesters, tearing down barricades to stymie efforts to oust the Sandinista leader following 275 deaths after three months of protests.
  • The US revoked the visa of Asdrúbal Chavez, cousin of the late Venezuelan leader Hugo Chávez and chief executive officer of PDVSA’s US refining unit Citgo.
  • The Trump administration has imposed personal and economic sanctions on the Venezuelan government, accusing it of corruption and human rights abuses.
  • Brazil’s mercurial leftist presidential candidate Ciro Gomes sent a letter to aircraft makers Boeing and Embraer opposing a proposed $4.75bn joint venture. He asked the companies’ top executives to cease negotiations. At a gathering, he called the deal “clandestine”, adding that “if it is consummated it has to be undone”.
  • Haiti sunk into unrest, spurred by the government’s double-digit rise in fuel prices, with protesters burning cars and closing roads. The turmoil prompted the resignation of prime minister Jack Guy Lafontant, complicating the reform plans of president Jovenel Moïse.

Quote of the week

“We’ve had a hail of bullets for breakfast. Interminable bursts of gunfire from the park next to the church” — Ismael López, a Nicaraguan journalist, while under attack by paramilitary forces loyal to President Daniel Ortega at a church on the edge of a university in Managua, following protests

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