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article imageLula leads Brazil polls despite graft conviction

By Sebastian Smith (AFP)     Jan 31, 2018 in World

Brazil's fiery left-wing former president, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, retains a strong lead ahead of presidential elections despite his conviction on graft charges, according to an opinion poll Wednesday.

An appeals court last week upheld a money laundering and corruption conviction against Lula and imposed a more than 12 year prison sentence. The sentence means that the Workers' Party founder and icon of the Latin American left has few avenues left to being allowed to run in October's election.

Even with the scandal, Lula remains a clear frontrunner, the respected Datafolha pollsters found in the first survey taken since the appeals court decision.

The deeply unpopular president, Michel Temer, has said that he won't run for the office.

In the poll, published by Folha de S. Paulo newspaper, Lula would get between 34 and 37 percent of votes in a first round on October 7.

This is easily ahead of right-wing candidate Jair Bolsonaro, who polls with 16 to 18 percent, according to Datafolha.

A crowded field is disputing third place in the poll, including environmentalist Marina Silva, leftist Ciro Gomes, and Sao Paulo Governor Geraldo Alckmin, from the establishment center-right party PSDB.

In a second round on October 28 -- if Lula were allowed to run -- the former president would easily defeat Bolsonaro by 49 to 32 percent, Datafolha found.

If Lula were absent, Bolsonaro would lose easily to Silva in the runoff round, Datafolha said, while losing by just two percentage points against Alckmin.

The poll was carried out this week with 2,826 respondents and a two percentage point margin of error.

- Angry voters -

Brazilian voters are in an angry, volatile mood after coming out of the country's worst recession in history and in the aftermath of a giant corruption scandal that has tainted not only Lula but scores of other politicians.

Lula has a passionate following among Brazilians who remember strides in reducing poverty during his 2003-2010 presidency. However, opponents feel just as strongly, blaming him for subsequent economic disarray and for overseeing the systemic graft uncovered by prosecutors since 2014.

As a result, Lula's rejection rate is easily the highest among the candidates, at 40 percent.

Still, for a man facing not just one conviction but six other pending court cases, he's not doing badly.

Political analyst Michael Mohallem, at the Getulio Vargas Foundation, says that's explained by the fact that many Brazilians now see the entire political class as corrupt, but Lula as a rare example of a politician who got something done while in office.

"With so many corruption problems, it's better to choose... someone who was good in government," he said. "Lula still has high favorability ratings. He ended his two terms as the most popular president in the history of Brazil."

But a big beneficiary of this voter unrest -- which extends to anger against all the mainstream parties -- has been former army officer Bolsonaro.

Although a veteran politician, he has long been on the margins and now portrays himself as an outsider.

His attacks on corruption and outspoken nostalgia for the days of Brazil's military dictatorship have caught the mood, seeing him shoot up in the polls over the last year. In the latest poll, however, that momentum appears to have stalled, Datafolha said.

Alckmin, who would represent the greatest continuity with the current center-right government of president Temer, continues to lag behind leftist candidates.

He is polling almost neck and neck with television presenter Luciano Huck in the latest poll. Huck hasn't even declared himself a candidate and does not belong to a political party.

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