Supporters of Brazil's former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, display banners saying "Free Lula" in Portuguese during a protest in front of the Superior Electoral Court, Brasilia, Aug. 31, 2018.
Supporters of Brazil's former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, display banners saying "Free Lula" in Portuguese during a protest in front of the Superior Electoral Court, Brasilia, Aug. 31, 2018.

SAO PAULO - Former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has been barred from Brazil’s October presidential election by the country’s electoral court despite easily leading in the polls, a ruling that adds uncertainty to the race to lead Latin America’s largest nation, leaving no clear favorites.

In a session that stretched into the early hours of Saturday, the justices voted 6-1 against the once hugely popular president, who is imprisoned on a corruption conviction he claims is a sham.

Appeal planned

Da Silva’s left-leaning Workers’ Party issued a statement vowing to appeal, but there appeared to be scant chance it would succeed. That would seem to leave the party’s fortunes in the hands of its current vice presidential candidate Fernando Haddad, a former Sao Paulo mayor who so far has polled in single digits and would have to count on the borrowed charisma of da Silva to succeed.

Supreme Court Justice Luis Roberto Barroso cast the first vote against da Silva, saying the ruling was “very simple” because the law forbids candidates whose conviction has been upheld on appeal.

“There is no margin here for the electoral court to make any other evaluation but the one showing there is a conviction, and that conviction matters in the candidate’s eligibility,” Barroso said.

Justice Edson Fachin disagreed, citing a recent call by a U.N. human rights committee calling for da Silva to be allowed to run while he further appeals his conviction.

Even as the justices were debating, the Workers’ Party put out ads on social media channels featuring da Silva, holding fast to a strategy to keep the former president front and center as long as possible.

Once-popular president

The former firebrand union leader led Brazil during a booming period from 2003 and 2010, promoting social policies that pulled millions from poverty. U.S. President Barack Obama once called him the “most popular politician on earth.”

But da Silva and party have lost much of that appeal over the last several years because of a stumbling economy under his hand-picked successor Dilma Rousseff and a sprawling corruption probe that has ensnared many top businessmen and politicians, including da Silva.

The 72-year-old ex-president is serving a 12-year-sentence for corruption and money laundering after being convicted of trading favors with construction company Grupo OAS in exchange for the promise of a beach house apartment.

Justice Barroso said the Workers’ Party should replace da Silva within 10 days, and that he should not appear as a presidential candidate in free airtime that is given to political parties on nationwide TV and radio starting Saturday.

In a statement late Friday, the Workers’ Party said it would appeal the electoral court ruling, just as da Silva is fighting to overturn his corruption conviction.

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