Who is Fernando Haddad, Brazil’s leftist presidential candidate?

Workers’ Party candidate Haddad faces runoff against far-right Jair Bolsonaro for Brazil’s presidency on October 28.

Presidential candidate Fernando Haddad attends a televised debate in Sao Paulo, Brazil September 30, 2018.
Fernando Haddad, a former mayor of Sao Paulo, has pledged to 'make Brazil happy again' [File: Nacho Doce/Reuters]

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil  In political campaigns, a candidate’s name is all important; splashed across adverts, booed by critics or chanted by supporters and, ultimately, decided on by voters come election day.

For Brazilian presidential contender Fernando Haddad, however, the name that appears to matter most to his election bid is not, in fact, his own.

Instead, it’s Luiz Inacio “Lula” da Silva.

A jailed, yet widely popular, former president, Lula hand-picked fellow leftist Worker’s Party (PT) politician Haddad as his replacement last month.

Lula was forced to step aside as PT’s candidate after being barred from running himself because of a corruption conviction.

Both men, it seems, have been desperate ever since for Brazilian voters to be aware of their connection.

For Haddad, alignment with Lula means attracting the sizeable support among the electorate the previous leader still enjoys.

For Lula, alignment with Haddad means a chance to govern again, albeit by proxy, and a possible presidential pardon from prison.

‘Haddad will be Lula’

Haddad’s run for office, launched last month in the shadow of the police headquarters where Lula is imprisoned, began with a declaration that “Fernando Haddad will be Lula for millions of Brazilians”.

The statement, written by Lula in an open letter to the Brazilian public and read out by PT officials at the event in the city of Curitiba, in southern Parana state, set the tone for his protege’s candidacy, analysts said.

Supporters of presidential candidate for the Workers' Party, Fernando Haddad, during a campaign in downtown Rio de Janeiro [Leo Correa/AP] 
Supporters of presidential candidate for the Workers’ Party, Fernando Haddad, during a campaign in downtown Rio de Janeiro [Leo Correa/AP] 

Brian Winter, vice president of policy at the Americas Society and Council of the Americas and editor-in-chief of Americas Quarterly, told Al Jazeera Haddad’s link to Lula was “overwhelmingly beneficial” for the former’s chances of winning office.

“Lula is the entire base of his (Haddad’s) support, if it wasn’t for Lula, Haddad would be polling at less than one percent,” Winter said.

The PT’s approach has paid off, so far.

Haddad, a former mayor of Brazilian metropolis Sao Paulo, won 29 percent of the vote in the first round of Brazil’s presidential election on October 7. 

The 55-year-old will now face a runoff vote against Jair Bolsonaro, the far-right firebrand candidate of the Social Liberal Party party, on October 28.

Bolsonaro fell just short of avoiding the second round of voting with 46 percent.

A relative unknown

The PT’s bid to fashion Haddad as something of a proxy for Lula has been helped by the latter’s limited public profile.

Unlike Lula, Haddad was a relative unknown among large portions of the electorate outside of his native Sao Paulo prior to the first round vote.

A mid-September poll by DataFolha indicated almost one-third of Brazil’s 147 million eligible voters didn’t know who he was.

Born to parents of Lebanese descent, Haddad initially began a career in academia at the University of Sao Paulo after years of studying law, economics and, lastly, philosophy at the institution.

In 2001, he moved into politics as an undersecretary of finance and economic development for the municipality of Sao Paulo, before rising to serve as minister for education under Lula and his successor Dilma Rousseff from 2005-2012.

Lula’s divisive legacy

But convincing voters that “Haddad is Lula, Lula is Haddad”, as the PT have tried, could prove as problematic an election strategy as it has seemed prudent until now.

Although Haddad’s popularity among voters surged in the days after his candidacy was announced, his rejection rates also soared.

That’s because Lula, a colossus in Brazilian politics since the country’s transition to democracy in 1985 after two decades of military rule, has become an increasingly divisive figure in recent years since leaving office almost a decade ago with personal approval ratings approaching 90 percent.

For some, he is still revered as a working-class hero who rose from a humble background in the country’s rural northeast to help lift millions out of poverty while in office for two terms from 2003 through 2010.

For others, however, the 72-year-old is a troubling embodiment of extensive high-level corruption and tainted by the economic bust that followed the commodity-driven boom of his tenure.

Supporters of Fernando Haddad participate in an event in defence of work and education in Sao Paulo, Brazil [File: Fernando Bizerra Jr/EPA] 
Supporters of Fernando Haddad participate in an event in defence of work and education in Sao Paulo, Brazil [File: Fernando Bizerra Jr/EPA] 

Last year, he was sentenced to a decade in prison for accepting bribes – in the shape of a luxury seaside apartment worth hundreds of thousands of US dollars – from Brazilian construction company OAS while in office.

In January, an appeals court upheld his conviction and extended the jail term to 12 years.

“People in poorer areas see the era of Lula as when they were doing best, the social transformation in Brazil under the PT governments was quite extensive and a lot of people feel they owe him a lot,” Richard Lapper, an associate fellow at UK-based institute of international affairs Chatham House and independent analyst on Latin American politics, told Al Jazeera.

“On the other hand, large chunks of Brazil also think that the worst person in the world is Lula … [so] it could be that people will vote for Bolsonaro simply to stop Lula, simply because he’s the anti-PT candidate,” he added.

For Haddad, the challenge will be to translate Lula’s popularity into votes for himself while also appealing to parts of the electorate with whom the former president is unpopular.

Fernando Haddad, presidential candidate for the Workers Party, campaigns in downtown Rio de Janeiro [File: Leo Correa/AP Photo] 
Fernando Haddad, presidential candidate for the Workers Party, campaigns in downtown Rio de Janeiro [File: Leo Correa/AP Photo] 

Somewhat ironically, Lula himself may provide the best example of how to traverse that tricky electoral tightrope, according to Winter.

“It will be difficult but not impossible, Lula himself has walked that line before back in 2002 when he was first elected and was trying to maintain this leftist base that had been with him for years while also signalling to a more moderate population that he wasn’t going to break the economy,” Winter said.

“[And] part of the reason that Haddad was such a smart pick for the PT, was because he is arguably the most moderate, modern major figure in that party,” he added.

Opportunity amid polarisation

Haddad has publicly adhered to the PT’s election manifesto, which includes calls for tax cuts for the poor and higher taxes for the rich, and pledged to end government-enforced austerity and boost public spending if elected to office.

But, according to Winter, in private conversations with business leaders and investors, Haddad has been eager to emphasise he is a moderate figure and responsible economic manager.

“He has told them, essentially, ‘Don’t listen too closely to what I’m saying out on the campaign trail,'” Winter said.

“But that’s tough … if you’re talking out of both sides of your mouth, in today’s modern world where wherever you go in the world voters are interested in authenticity just as much as anything else, it’s a risk, and if he mismanages that it could become a huge problem for him,” he added.

At a moment of bitter political polarisation in Brazil, however, Haddad’s push to present himself as a candidate seeking compromise may yet prove crucial in securing the majority of support required to win the presidency, according to Oliver Stuenkel, a professor of international relations at the Brazil-based Getulio Vargas Foundation.

“Haddad is somebody who can speak and engage with people across the aisle, who’s essentially a moderate,” Stuenkel told Al Jazeera.

“It’s not by chance that Lula has chosen Haddad because, particularly in a race with Bolsonaro, he is able to project himself quite credibly as the centre candidate and has a good shot at the presidency [in running] against a radical.”

Source: Al Jazeera