The 10th of November marks a historical day for the Portuguese Democracy. Τhe unexpected happened, the left parties signed agreements and voted against the program of Pedro Passos Coelho’ government. The 20th government of Portugal was the shortest in Portuguese history.
Before that, the left parties voted all in the Socialist candidate for the President of the Portuguese Parliament, the second important figure of the Portuguese Republic. Something unique, because normally the candidate is elected from the most voted party in the Parliament’s President.
This unusual fact in the Portuguese democracy is a result of the elections on October 4th, which did not give the majority for the right coalition Portugal à Frente (PàF). Who ended its four years mandate.
Portuguese people were expecting that the winner of the electoral night would not have an absolute majority. President Cavaco Silva’ speeches were warning about this: a big consensus would be necessary to form the 20th government of Portugal.
In his last speech the President, said that the 20th government needs to ensure the commitment to the international goals. Cavaco’s Silva words showed that he preferred a central block government between PàF and PS, since they are pro-EU. This originated big criticism from the left parties, and even the hashtag #PortugalCoup went viral Twitter but, #IsNotACoup.
The big consensus came from left parties and formed a kind of a “coalition”. I said kind because, the Partido Socialista (PS) signed different agreements with the Bloco de Esquerda (BE), the Partido Comunista Português (PCP) and the Partido Ecologista “Os Verdes” (PEV). Its not a big left coalition, it is three separated agreement. BE, PCP and PEV were unable to make a joint agreement with PS, this shows that their ideas are mostly incompatible.
The agreements provide joint action but only for some measures, and the lefts will not make part of the Socialist government, which the Prime Minister will be António Costa. The agreements were signed during the lunch time of the last day of the government, hours before the last vote of the government program, in the Portuguese Parliament.
The fact that BE/PCP/PEV will stay away from the cabinets does not give a strong stability for the Costa’ government. They will support Costa, in the matters that they agreed, but there are many other things where the socialists will need their help and it will be necessary to discuss this step by step. This will take more time to be approved by the Parliament.
They can take into debate the Parliament separated discussions, that can surprise the socialists, as what happened already with the discussion of the sale of TAP, the Portuguese airway company, that the interim government ended the process last Friday. The sale of TAP was one of the important matters that stayed out of the three agreements, because the four political parties have different opinions about it.
If the socialist government will do bad work, the PCP, that controls most of the labor unions, can still make protests and strikes anti-government, if they were part of the government this would be strange to see happening. So the communists will still have the labour unions to put some extra pressure in the Socialist government.
What united PS with BE/PCP/PEV, more than an anti-austerity program, was a desire to bring down the right wing government. The most important goal for them was to not let Passos Coelho get another four years mandate, and they achieved this on the 10th of November, when the 122 deputies of PS/BE/PCP/PEV voted against PàF. They even had the help of the recent elected deputy from Pessoas-Animais-Natureza (PAN).
In Portugal the left parties, specially the PS and the PCP - BE is a more recent political party, considered themselves as a guarantee of the Portuguese Democracy against the fascist regime. For that, they are still alive in the right wing coalition PàF, represented by the Partido Social Democrata (PSD) and the CDS - Partido Popular.
It was four hard years, PSD and CDS had to increase many taxes and face many anti-austerity demonstrations. Now that they are not in the government it will be interested to see if the PSD and CDS will remain together or if the CDS will switch place and help PS.
Also, BE/PCP/PEV are anti-EU and anti-NATO. Brussels must be worried right now about Portugal, because Europe will have another anti-voice in Lisbon. Portugal was a pro-EU voice in Brussels, always in the front line of the main achievements. Such as the Euro and the current ruling Treaty of the EU that was signed in Lisbon, for example.
PS is pro-EU, it was its founder Mário Soares that signed the accession agreement for the EEC in 1985. It was not an easy process for Portugal, and now after 30 years, for the first time, voices anti-EU will have influence in the government.
The socialists are trying to keep calm the markets, they are talking with analysts of rating agencies, investment banks, financial newspapers and international investors. They are saying not worry about Portugal, the public accounts will remain controlled. The (probable) next Finance Minister gave an interview to Financial Times, where Centeno said: “We will continue to bring down the deficit and debt, but at a slower pace. This will create the economic space needed to alleviate the very serious financial restraints families and companies face.”.
António Costa, the second in PS when Sócrates was the leader, did not run for the political party when Sócrates left. Another candidate, weaker, was the Secretary of the socialists, until when Costa thought that would be the best time to take the place for him and win the legislative elections by a large majority. He had bad luck and lost the elections, after all the critics to the small victories of his predecessor, he did not quit the PS.
Costa is now trying his last possibility of a political salvation but, for this he will be a hostage from BE/PCP/PEV. He could become Prime Minister of Portugal but only because these three political parties want and they have the power to decide until when they want him there.
The President of Portugal started already to hear some personalities from important associations and he will call again all the seven political parties represented in the Portuguese Parliament. Only after this long process we will know if Costa will be Prime Minister of Portugal or the President will choose an interim government, until new elections can be held.
Cavaco Silva knows that an interim government can be more harmful, but he do not like the idea of giving power to Costa in this situation, he may ask some more guarantees. The lefties want a quick solution, that must pass by giving the PM mandate to Costa, but its the first time in the Portuguese democracy that we are living such a situation and Portugal is not totally recover from the crisis. A bad step taken can be very hurtful, a decision like this needs time.
The PàF is talking about a quick change in the Constitution of the Portuguese Republic that can allow early elections (the Constitution do not permit the dissolution of Parliament during its first six months). So Portuguese people can vote again in what they call a fair election, because in the elections of the 4th of October Portuguese people did not vote for a left coalition. The socialists of course do not agree with this idea.
Most of the Portuguese population must be surprised - like me- with this situation. We never expected to have a socialist government supported by the left block, the communists and the greens, but the Portuguese people gave them their votes. Together they have a majority in the Parliament, and in Portugal the Parliament is who decides the formation of the government.
PS/BE/PCP/PEV never talked for a such a coalition during their campaign. BE/PCP/PEV even attacked the socialists, as they are being doing since ever. The only left party that talked in a left coalition was Livre, but was unable to elected deputies and now is trying to get funds to pay the debts of its election campaign.
It will be complicated for the right wing parties to accept a socialist government but, they can do nothing against it. The Portuguese democracy is working like never before. It does not matter what the next steps will be. Democracy must be strengthened after this. Portugal, is using democracy for the first time. The left agreement can be not the strongest one, but it is historical. We will see in the next days if the President will give the PM mandate to Costa and how long he has the ability to keep his government moving.