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article imageFernando Haddad: stand-in for Lula who might run Brazil

By Sebastian Smith (AFP)     Aug 9, 2018 in Politics

Fernando Haddad has the oddest job in Brazilian politics: standing in for Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva as his far more popular mentor tries to win the presidency from a prison cell.

The former Sao Paulo mayor was picked Sunday by the leftist Workers' Party as running mate on Lula's presidential ticket in October elections.

But as VP to a political giant who leads opinion polls yet is serving a 12-year sentence for corruption, Haddad finds himself in a peculiar position.

"Haddad has the role... at this moment to be the voice of the president in the day-to-day campaigning. He's a representative of Lula," Workers' Party president Gleisi Hoffmann explained.

Or as political blogger Fernando Brito wrote: "Lula is the man. And Haddad has to be the man of the man."

Lula, who served two terms as president from 2003-2010, has not only been put behind bars. He has lost an appeal and under clean slate laws that might be enough to keep him off the ballot.

The Workers' Party still insists that Lula will take part and his lawyers say they can persuade the courts to offer an escape route.

With around 30 percent support in the polls -- far ahead of his nearest presidential rivals -- fervent supporters basically believe that Lula is too big to fail.

If Lula does somehow get confirmed on the ballot, Haddad's VP adventure would come to an abrupt end.

According to the party's plan, a younger up-and-coming female politician from Brazil's communist party, Manuela D'Avila, would take Haddad's place.

However, if Lula were definitively banned -- the more likely scenario -- humble Haddad's journey might be just beginning.

The placeholder would suddenly become number one and D'Avila would be his running mate.

Brazilians would now be considering the possibility of a President Haddad.

- Lula's coattails -

At 55, Haddad has a solid political resume. But he's always been riding the coattails of his party's 72-year-old founder and guru.

A trained lawyer and longtime academic, he served as education minister under both Lula and Lula's handpicked successor Dilma Rousseff, who won the presidency in 2011.

This put Haddad at the nucleus of the Workers' Party machine that dominated Brazil for more than a decade. But even then he never left Lula's considerable shadow.

"Haddad only spoke when asked a question," a former Lula aide told Gazeta do Povo.

In 2012, then president Lula helped him become mayor of Latin America's biggest city. During Brazil's 2016 municipal elections, Haddad tried to get a second term, but times had changed.

Lula was in legal difficulties and Dilma had been ejected from office in an impeachment vote. The Workers' Party took a pounding nationwide as Brazilians revolted over recession and a wave of corruption scandals -- including Lula's.

Haddad got trounced by multi-millionaire businessman Joao Doria, getting knocked out in the first round.

Today, though, Lula's magic touch might be working again.

On his own, Haddad polls at a meager two percent in the presidential election. Present him as being backed by Lula, however, and he shoots to 13 percent, according to an Ipespe poll released last week.

While there's a 3.2 percent margin of error, that would put him ahead of environmentalist Marina Silva and establishment center-right candidate Geraldo Alckmin, each with nine percent.

It would mean Haddad going into a second round runoff against right-wing ex-army captain Jair Bolsonaro, who was projected to get 20 percent in the first round.

And Haddad believes that as a Lula surrogate he might actually win.

"I'm Lula's... lamp post," he reportedly said back in 2012. That's a Brazilian idiom used when one politician is so influential that his backing would get even a lamp post elected.

According to the newspaper Gazeta do Povo, Haddad's telling friends today: "I'm going back to my role of lamp post."

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