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Exclusive: Brazil's Lula says he will back anyone who can take on Bolsonaro

BRASILIA (Reuters) - Brazil’s former leftist President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, barred from elected office due to corruption convictions, said he is open to backing any candidate who can beat far-right President Jair Bolsonaro in the 2022 elections.

Brazil's former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva is seen on a screen as he speaks to Reuters from Sao Paulo in a video conference interview conducted in Brasilia, Brazil, September 18, 2020. Picture taken September 18, 2020. REUTERS/Adriano Machado

“I am prepared to support any candidate who is committed to the working people of Brazil and against Bolsonaro,” Lula told Reuters on Friday in an interview via video conference.

Whether or not he himself runs in the next general election, Lula said depends on the courts. The former president has two criminal convictions for graft that bar him from running unless he is able to overturn them, plus five other indictments.

The charismatic former leader said his Workers Party, known as the PT, will support left and center-left parties in the November local elections to build opposition to Bolsonaro, who he accused of failing to lead Brazil out of its worst economic and public health crisis in the coronavirus pandemic.

Still one of Brazil’s most popular politicians, Lula - who governed Brazil from 2003-2010 - maintains that the corruption cases against him were politically motivated to stop him returning to power and said he hopes the graft sentences can be annulled by the courts as new evidence of bias by prosecutors emerges.

Lula is sure of his place in the history books for lifting millions out of poverty and he said there was no need for a mea culpa for misdeeds committed by his party.

“We did not do everything we should have done, but never before has a government done so much for social inclusion taking care of the poor, Blacks and indigenous people,” he said.

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If Lula were free to run and the election held today, he would tie with Bolsonaro in a run-off, a poll by Poder360 news portal found last week.

The survey showed Lula was favored by women, blue-collar workers, young and older and university-educated voters, while Bolsonaro would win farm-belt states, the Amazon and even the northeast, once a Lula stronghold but where Bolsonaro has made inroads with payments to families during the pandemic.

NATIONAL RECONSTRUCTION

Lula, who will be 75 next month, left quarantine in his home in an industrial suburb of Sao Paulo on Thursday for the first times since March 12 to do routine medical exams that found him in good health.

“I did all the exams for someone who wants to live to 120 and everything is marvelous. I have the energy of a 30-year-old and the political drive of a 20-year-old,” he joked.

On Monday, his party will launch a National Reconstruction Plan that will propose recovering Latin America’s largest economy from its worst slump with strong industrial investments and the creation of a new social welfare program that will guarantee low-income families a 600 reais a month stipend.

Lula was jailed in 2018 and spent 560 days behind bars until he was freed in November last year after the Supreme Court reversed a previous ruling on whether defendants should be imprisoned or not before all their appeals are exhausted. He faces six other corruption indictments.

“I am absolutely convinced of my innocence. They banned me because they knew I was going to win again,” he said.

Candidate or not, Lula plans to lead his party and start traveling up and down Brazil as soon as the pandemic abates.

What he says he wants most is to be judged not by the courts but by voters in an election where his party will run against Bolsonaro on its legacy of raising the quality of life of poor Brazilians, especially in the northeast of Brazil, his homeland.

“We did away with hunger and there is hunger again in Brazil,” he said.

Reporting by Anthony Boadle; Editing by Daniel Wallis

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