Mentor of jailed Brazilian ex-president Lula hopes to thwart far-right win in presidential vote

  • Fernando Haddad is the last hope for opponents of ex-army captain and front runner Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil’s presidential election
PUBLISHED : Saturday, 27 October, 2018, 2:36pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 27 October, 2018, 9:41pm

Fernando Haddad is the last hope for those dreading a far-right win in Brazil’s presidential election on Sunday, but the measured university professor lacks the charisma of his mentor, ex-president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

In an election that is largely about the one candidate who cannot run – the popular but imprisoned Lula, who is serving 12 years for corruption – Haddad, 55, has struggled to fill the shoes of his one-time boss, who led Brazil through the boom years of 2003 to 2010, before both the country and his left-wing political project went bust.

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Brought in late in the game when it became clear the courts would not let the former president run, Haddad spent half the race selling himself as “Lula’s man,” and the other half doing the opposite.

Haddad launched his campaign in front of the prison where Lula is being held, and the Lula brand initially helped the relative unknown – a former Sao Paulo mayor and education minister – tap into the ex-president’s broad popularity.

But after far-right ex-army captain Jair Bolsonaro nearly won the first-round election outright on October 7, Haddad changed his strategy for the run-off.

He cut Lula’s image from his campaign ads, ended his weekly visits to him in prison and switched out the red flag of their Workers Party for Brazilian green, yellow and blue.

More recently, he began emphasising what he says is Bolsonaro’s “fascism” and the threat he poses to democracy.

“My adversary foments violence, including a culture of rape,” Haddad said in an interview, recalling an episode when Bolsonaro told a congresswoman she did not “deserve” to be raped by him.

Haddad insists the race is not a done deal, pointing to a narrowing gap in the polls.

Last week, opinion polls were giving Bolsonaro an 18-point lead. On Thursday, it was down to 12 points: 56 per cent to 44.

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“Nobody thought I would even make it to a run-off,” Haddad said.

“I think we’ve done a great job in one month’s time.”

An academic with degrees in law, economics and philosophy, Haddad has little in common with Lula, a former metalworker who grew up dirt poor and broke into union organising and then politics by sheer force of personality.

Haddad is the son of a Lebanese shopkeeper and an education student, and came of age as a “political being,” steeped in public life since his university days, he told the daily El País two years ago.

Known for his laid-back manner, he has spent most of his political career in Lula’s shadow.

“Haddad only ever spoke if asked a question,” a long-time Lula ally once said.

Lula named Haddad minister of education – a post the president valued highly – in 2005.

In 2012, Lula’s backing helped him pull off an underdog victory to become mayor of Sao Paulo, Brazil’s economic capital.

But four years later, it all came crashing down.

Lula’s chosen successor, former president Dilma Rousseff, was impeached for mishandling public funds as the economy started to go bust.

Two months after, in October 2016, Haddad suffered a humiliating defeat in his re-election bid, losing the mayoral race in the first round with 17 per cent of the vote.

Many Workers Party figures started getting caught up in corruption scandals – including Lula, accused of masterminding the large-scale pilfering of state oil company Petrobras.

Haddad has also faced accusations of corruption, relating to his 2012 mayoral campaign.

He rejects them as a baseless political smear.

A keen guitar player, Haddad is married with two children.