Exit of anti-graft figure shakes up Brazil presidential election

Niterói (Brazil) (AFP) –


Brazil's upcoming presidential election got a shakeup Tuesday when a former Supreme Court justice seen as tough on graft said he would not be running, leaving a multitude of other candidates jostling to seize the advantage.

Joaquim Barbosa -- the country's first black chief justice, who had been touted as a strong outsider candidate -- announced he would not compete.

"It's decided," he tweeted. "I finally came to a decision. I will not be a candidate for president of the republic. The decision is purely personal."

With Brazilians hungry for change after years of instability and scandal in the capital Brasilia, Barbosa was seen as a fresh face with strong anti-corruption credentials from his time on the Supreme Court.

Despite having no experience in electoral politics and having done no campaigning, the 63-year-old was performing surprisingly well in opinion polls.

Earlier this year, another popular outsider and non-politician, television presenter Luciano Huck, decided against running, despite what analysts said was his potential to capture weary voters' imaginations.

Barbosa's exit added to the uncertainty in what may already be the least predictable election since Brazil returned to democracy in 1985 after two decades of military dictatorship.

The easy frontrunner in polls, leftist ex-president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, is serving a 12-year prison sentence for corruption and is almost certain to be excluded from the ballot.

Meanwhile, the closest runner-up, Jair Bolsonaro, is a firebrand right-wing ex-army officer who openly praises the dictatorship.

That leaves the field open for a viable leftist candidate and also someone who can fill the wide space in the center.

At an event with a dozen would-be candidates in Rio de Janeiro suburb Niteroi, leftist candidate Ciro Gomes said that "Brazil needs change."

However, he expressed frustration at the decision by the Workers' Party, the biggest leftist party in Brazil, to insist on still pushing the jailed -- and likely to be disqualified -- Lula as its candidate.

"Enough of these intrigues," Gomes said.

The main centrist candidate, former Sao Paulo governor Geraldo Alckmin, has had trouble getting his campaign off the ground.

He is under investigation for corruption, a major handicap with angry Brazilians. And his platform of supporting ongoing austerity reforms makes him the candidate of an unpopular status quo.

"Brazil has no solution unless it grows," he said in Niteroi. "We have to have the courage to make those reforms and changes."