In Brazil, Lula conviction opens field for 2018 presidential race

BRASILIA (Reuters) – The graft conviction Wednesday of former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, a front-runner for next year’s presidential election, opens the door for an outsider to take power in Latin America’s largest country, political experts said.

Lula, a giant on the Brazilian political scene who led Brazil from 2003 to 2011, has said he wants to run for president again next year. But if his nearly 10-year sentence is upheld on appeal, Lula, a founder of the leftist Workers Party, would be barred from seeking office again for eight years, beginning after any jail time is complete.

Lula, 71, is among a raft of Brazilian elites toppled by an epic corruption scandal that has battered the nation’s economy, engulfed every major party and deepened public cynicism about politics. It’s a toxic mix that has enraged voters, who are searching for someone to lead them out of the political and economic wilderness.

“Brazil is now as polarized as the U.S., it really has been for years,” said Carlos Melo, a political scientist with Insper, a Sao Paulo business school. “But if Lula is absent it would unquestionably open the space for an outside, very emotional leader, a bit like U.S. President Trump.”

Lula was convicted on Wednesday by Judge Sergio Moro, who found Lula guilty

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