SCOTT DETROW, HOST:
Brazil's far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro, is under growing pressure over his response to the pandemic. Now he's facing trouble of a different kind. A Supreme Court judge has ruled Bolsonaro's political nemesis can run against him in next year's election. Former leftist president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva was banned from running in 2018 because he was convicted of corruption. But this new ruling means da Silva, widely known as Lula, could have a shot at getting his old job back.
We're joined now by NPR's South America correspondent Philip Reeves. Phil, what exactly did the judge rule?
PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: Well, I don't know whether you remember this. A couple of years ago, long after leaving office, Lula was convicted of corruption charges. He wound up serving 18 months in jail. He and his supporters have always said these charges were politically motivated to stop him running in the last election in 2018, which they did, thus allowing Bolsonaro to win. Yesterday, a Supreme Court judge annulled those convictions. He decided the court in southern Brazil that tried Lula had no jurisdiction to do so. He ruled the cases should be tried all over again by a federal court in the capital, Brasilia. And that means that Lula gets his political rights back, at least for now. And therefore, pretty much to everyone's surprise, he qualifies to be a candidate in next year's presidential elections and can challenge Bolsonaro.
DETROW: I remember talking to you as that first ruling came in and there were huge crowds showing support for Lula. You know, how does this affect the political landscape in Brazil going forward?
REEVES: Well, it's potentially a very big deal. Lula's a huge figure on the Latin American political scene. When he left power 10 years ago, his popularity ratings were over 80%. It's important to point out, though, that this ruling may be overturned. It's going to be reviewed by the entire Supreme Court. And he also faces other corruption charges that are in the pipeline, and they could be an impediment. Yet, according to political analysts in Brazil, Lula might just win through on this. He could take the stage for a contest between him, you know, this highly charismatic former two-term presidential president and the far-right populist Bolsonaro, who's a big fan and ideological (ph) soulmate of Donald Trump. And so if you think Brazilian politics were already heavily polarized, you'd be right. But if we have a Lula-Bolsonaro contest, as one analyst put it, buckle up. The show is only just beginning.
DETROW: I mean, we've spent a lot of time reporting on Bolsonaro's challenges, especially navigating the pandemic. How likely is it that Lula could put the political coalition together to return to office?
REEVES: Well, you know, he's 75 years old. And he's certainly not as popular now as he was back when he was in office when President Barack Obama called him the world's most popular president. A lot of Brazilians became very embittered by the widespread corruption during the decade of leftist government and also by the severe recession in the middle of the last decade. A poll came out last week in which 50% said they would either certainly vote for Lula or might vote for him, compared with 38 for Bolsonaro. And, you know, this is at a time when Bolsonaro's being pummeled over his handling of the pandemic. Many Brazilians are very angry about the vaccination program, which is in its very early stages, and the death toll, which is the second-highest in the world, and people dying in larger numbers now than ever.
DETROW: That's NPR's Philip Reeves. Thanks so much.
REEVES: You're welcome.
(SOUNDBITE OF HIDDEN ORCHESTRA'S "SEVEN HUTNERS [DAM MANTLE MIX]") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.