Lightning strikes behind the Brazilian Supreme Court, one day before the court issues its final decision for former Brazil president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva's arrest, in Brasilia, Brazil, April 3, 2018. (Photo via REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino)

Brazil is on a knife-edge as it gears up for a Supreme Court (STF) ruling expected today that will determine whether former Brazilian president Luiz Inácio ‘Lula’ da Silva is taken into custody.

Lula’s defense team has lodged a habeas corpus appeal before the Supreme Court so that he does not face time in prison for a corruption and money-laundering conviction until every appeal is exhausted. In January of this year, an appeals court upheld a graft conviction from July 2017 that considered da Silva guilty of accepting R $3.7 million (US $1.2 million) worth of bribes from engineering firm OAS S.A., which prosecutors said the company spent refurbishing a beach apartment for Lula in return for contracts with state oil company Petrobras. He can still appeal the conviction before the Superior Court of Justice (STJ) and ultimately the STF if necessary. The former president has strenuously denied any kind of wrongdoing.

In January, the appeals court upheld a sentence issued by Judge Sergio Moro, and the court increased the prison sentence to 12 years and one month. One of the judges found evidence that Lula had “personally benefited” from the bribes offered to the Workers’ Party (PT) while another concluded that Lula had a role in the graft scheme directed by Petrobras, according to La Nación.

Demonstrators protest against former Brazilian president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva at Paulista Avenue in Sao Paulo, Brazil April 3, 2018. (Photo via REUTERS/Leonardo Benassatto)
Demonstrators protest against former Brazilian president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva at Paulista Avenue in Sao Paulo, Brazil April 3, 2018. (Photo via REUTERS/Leonardo Benassatto)

 

The Supreme Court’s decision has huge ramifications, given the intense polarization that has seized Brazilian politics in recent years, in particular in light of the upcoming presidential elections. Lula is currently leading the polls for the October presidential elections, and has won the endorsement from the PT to return to Planalto, but there are dark clouds hanging over his bid, not only in terms of the risk of incarceration, but also due to the electoral law that prohibits candidates with convictions that have been upheld. Lula’s bid has not been formally registered with electoral authorities yet, as the window opens in August.

Last week Lula’s caravan was shot at in Paraná state, and the former president has denounced a campaign by “fascists” against his candidacy. In the days since there have been large rival rallies in favor and against Lula serving time and more are expected today.

Demonstrators wait for former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva in front of the Federal University of Parana state in Curitiba, Brazil, March 28, 2018. (Photo via REUTERS/Rodolfo Buhrer)
Demonstrators wait for former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva in front of the Federal University of Parana state in Curitiba, Brazil, March 28, 2018. (Photo via REUTERS/Rodolfo Buhrer)

 

In a rare video message published this week, Chief Justice Carmen Lucía Antunes Rocha said “we live in times of intolerance and intransigence against persons and institutions. For that reason this is a time in which we have to ask for serenity. Serenity so that ideological differences do not become the source of social disorder.”

Brazil's Army General Eduardo Villas Boas attends a promotion ceremony for generals of the armed forces, at the Planalto Palace in Brasilia, Brazil April 6, 2017. (Photo via REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino)
Brazil’s Army General Eduardo Villas Boas attends a promotion ceremony for generals of the armed forces, at the Planalto Palace in Brasilia, Brazil April 6, 2017. (Photo via REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino)

 

Last night, head of the Brazilian Army General Eduardo Villas Boas got tongues wagging by tweeting that the Army shared the “anxiety of all upstanding citizens against impunity and respecting the Constitution, social peace and Democracy, as it remains mindful of its institutional missions.” The PT called the tweet “blackmail” against the courts and today Brazilian President Michel Temer’s Security Minister Raul Jungmann defended Villas Boas’s comments as demonstrating “respect for institutions.”

If the Supreme Court rules against Lula, the ex president could be taken into custody today.