Former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva has pulled out of next month’s presidential election to allow his running mate to stand in his place.
Lula had been the frontrunner despite being in jail for a corruption conviction and despite the top electoral court barring his candidacy.
He has now thrown his weight behind his Workers’ Party colleague Fernando Haddad.
The move comes days after a far-right candidate was stabbed at a rally.
The 63-year-old Jair Bolsonaro must now undergo major surgery after being attacked by a lone assailant, doctors said.
A Workers’ Party leader announced the decision outside the detention centre where the 72-year-old is serving a 12-year sentence.
He read out a letter – written by Lula in his cell – to supporters who have been camping outside the jail for five months demanding he be freed.
In it, the former president, who governed from January 2003 until December 2010, said he would not run in the election scheduled for 7 October.
Fernando Haddad “will be my representative in this battle”, he said. “Our name is now Haddad!”
The decision comes after a lengthy legal battle which culminated on 1 September when the Superior Electoral Court (TSE) ruled that he was “ineligible” to run for the presidency.
Lula’s legal team and the Workers’ Party have appealed against the decision and the Supreme Court is still due to rule on it.
Up until Monday night, the Workers’ Party strategy had been to keep Lula’s name on the ticket for as long as possible.
Lula left office with record approval ratings and despite his imprisonment, almost 40% of people asked by polling firm Datafolha said they would vote for him.
Mr Haddad, on the other hand, is a former education minister who has little name recognition outside of São Paulo, where he served as mayor.
Lula’s legal team asked the Supreme Court to extend the deadline for registering candidates for the presidency from end of business Tuesday to Monday 17 September to buy itself more time.
Typical of the high drama which has characterised the election campaign, Lula and his party decided to change tack after the Supreme Court rejected their request to extend the deadline.
Lula was barred from running for the presidency under a 2010 law dubbed “Clean Slate”. It prohibits those who have a criminal conviction which has been upheld on appeal from running for public office.
In July 2017, Lula was found guilty of accepting an upgrade to a beachfront flat as a bribe from an engineering firm involved in a major corruption scheme.
Lula has always denied any wrongdoing and appealed against the verdict.
In January, an appeals court upheld the conviction and increased the sentence from the original nine-and-a-half years to 12 years.
Lula and his legal team tried to argue he should stay out of jail while further appeals were under way.
But in April, he was given 24 hours to turn himself in. After a tense, two-day stand-off he surrendered to police and was taken to the federal police headquarters in the city of Curitiba, where he has been held since.
While he was in office, from January 2003 to December 2010, Brazil experienced its longest period of economic growth in three decades, allowing his administration to spend lavishly on social programmes.
Tens of millions of people were lifted out of poverty thanks to the initiatives taken by his government and many of them remain loyal supporters.
Many poor Brazilians could also relate to Lula in a way that they could not relate to other Brazilian politicians.
A charismatic leader, he served two consecutive terms as Brazil’s president before helping his protégé, Dilma Rousseff, to be elected.
Who is Fernando Haddad?
He was the minister of education during Lula’s presidency and is thought to enjoy his trust. He was Lula’s vice-presidential running mate until now.
From 2013 to 2017, the 55-year-old also served as mayor of São Paulo, Brazil’s most populous city and faced mass demonstrations against bus fare rises.
The Workers’ Party hopes that Mr Haddad will get through to the run-off scheduled for 28 October.
But Mr Haddad is facing legal problems of his own. Prosecutors allege that during his campaign for mayor his team received a loan from a construction firm which stood to benefit from contracts once he was elected. He has denied any wrongdoing.
The leading candidates
The latest poll by research company Ibope says:
- Jair Bolsonaro (far right, PSL): 26%
- Ciro Gomes (centre left, PDT): 11%
- Marina Silva (green, Rede): 9%
- Geraldo Alckmin (centre right, PSDB): 9%
- Fernando Haddad (Workers’ Party, PT): 8%
It is expected that Mr Haddad’s share will rise now he is an official candidate.
The Workers’ Party is hoping Lula’s popularity will translate into votes for their new candidate. “Haddad is Lula!” its Twitter account said, repeatedly. “He was a Lula minister, he is a Lula lawyer and best of all: he is a friend of Lula’s.”