Portuguese elections, an unexpected surprise http://observador.pt/2015/08/04/paulo-portas-fica-mesmo-dos-debates/
The leader of PSD, Pedro Passos Coelho, and PS, António Costa

The last four years under the coalition government

After six years of a Socialist government led by José Sócrates that was mainly appointed as the responsible for the Portuguese crisis, the previous elections were held already under the TROIKA vigilance. It was the Social Democratic Party (PSD) that won the election, but they had to make a coalition with the People’s Party (CDS) to get a stable Parliament. The two political parties are both right wing parties and, despite all the critics, they were able to end their four years mandate. 

They had a major disagreement which led to a political crisis in 2013 that provoked some changes in the government. But in order to show that the coalition was still strong they have chosen an important date to tell that they decided to run the elections’ campaign together as an alliance “Portugal à Frente” (PàF). The date was the 25th of April that marks the Revolução dos Cravos that ended the Estado Novo dictatorship in 1974 and the first elections for the Parliament in 1975.

Many Portuguese politicians and critics believed that the government would not finish its mandate, and there were no signals that they could win the elections once again, they had nothing in their favor. The four years were very difficult years for Portuguese people, with serious austerity measures implemented, but the coalition government wanted to go further. It was four years with Portuguese people complaining every day about the austerity measures.

The exports income was rising; the interest rates went down and there were also other good indicators for the Portuguese economy but it seemed not to be enough. Portuguese people only have been noticing only the bad indicators. The debt was still too high, the unemployment was rising, and then also the problem with the Portuguese banks and the impossibility of the government to achieve the goals required by TROIKA for the State budget, were all factors that did not give high exceptions for the victory of the coalition.

The Socialist Party (PS) was the favorite for these elections. António Costa, its new leader and former President of Lisbon Municipality, was always seen as the best candidate to take the place of Prime Minister. Before Costa, the PS had other president but was a weak one, mainly placed there as a puppet to clean the bad image that Sócrates left in the party. 

Costa, is a politician that creates some empathy with people, but he is a big friend of Sócrates and this did not help him, Portuguese people still looking to Sócrates as the main responsible for the austerity program, and the arrest of Sócrates last year under allegations of tax fraud, corruption and money laundering just complicated more Costa’ life. Sócrates was put in house arrest a few week before the elections that was reported by all the newspapers, he was even able to vote in the elections under police escort.

The European Elections that we had last year showed some change in the political system, two new parties achieve small but unexpected results. European elections are different from the national elections but, it was already expected that Portugal would have new political forces inside the Portuguese Parliament.

Last Sunday results

The coalition was always in second place in the polls, giving to PS the victory, but the polls changed during the campaign, starting to give the victory to PàF. António Costa was unable to maintain the PS in the front line. The results of the elections left PS in the second place, and the right-wing alliance won the elections, but was not enough to achieve an absolute majority. 

When we compared the elections on the 4th of October with the last elections, the PàF had fewer seats than the PSD alone in 2011, it was a big loose but they manage to occupy the first position. The PS won twelve seats more and the Communist and Green coalition (CDU) won one seat more. The country is divided in two, in the North (12 districts) and the archipelago of Madeira the PàF won, in the South (6 districts) and in the archipelago of Azores the PS won.

There were a few surprises in the electoral night. The Left Block (BE) that was losing votes during the last elections and had internal problems, this time almost quadrupled their seats compared to 2011. The BE in Portugal is similar to the Podemos in Spain or Syriza in Greece. Other surprise was the fact of that for the first time since 1999 a small political party was able to elect one deputy, People-Animals-Nature (PAN).

The Sunday night had more surprises: the two political parties that had small but good results in the European Elections were unable to elect deputies this time. Another fact was the increasing of votes in the National Renovator Party (PNR), a far-right party that had more than 50% of votes than last elections, but still not able to elect any deputy.

Other facts from the electoral night are that one third of the parliament will be occupied by women, and the BE elected one wheelchair deputy and a 69 years old housewife that did not excepted to be elected - she was only in the list to fill the empty spaces. The BE has also the youngest deputy with only 22 years old, the oldest is from the PS, 70 years old that is also the first homosexual married in the parliament.

All these facts will give to the Portuguese parliament a different and a better aspect, it will contribute to the improvement of the Portuguese democracy. The last four seats for the deputies elected by the European and outside-Europe circle (2 deputies each circle). The PàF won three seats and PS just one seat (these seats). In these two circles, there was another surprise, Portuguese registered to vote in the Asian region increased. 

In Macau there are now 15000 inscriptions, the main reason is the influence of the Nós Cidadãos candidate in the region, he was well placed to win one seat, but had not enough votes. The Nós Cidadãos will challenge the election results because the votes from some countries were in risk to arrive on time to Portugal. The post service in Brazil was in strike and the ballot papers did not arrive on time to East Timor.

The Presidential message

The President of the Republic, Cavaco Silva, spoke to the Portuguese people two days after the elections. Since the so called “hot summer” in 2013, the President has being asking for a big and stable consensus. When he decided the date of the elections, it was already expected that no political party would win the absolute majority, so he highlight once more the necessity of a stable government, able to give the country a sustainable development. He made reference too many European States where coalition governments exist. 

It was expected that he would talk about this on Tuesday night, Cavaco Silva told Portuguese people that Portugal needs a government that can ensure the commitment to the international goals, and respect the NATO alliance just like the European Union and the Euro Zone rules. He also made reference that the new government needs to continue with the strategic options brought with the democratic regime, the relations with the Portuguese speaking countries and the Euro-Atlantic relations need to be ensured.

He also referred that the European rules of budgetary discipline must be accomplished as the other EU member states, the next government will need to have a sustainable path to eliminate the sacrifices that the Portuguese suffered from the crisis. The President said that it is up to the political parties to find the solution for solid and stable government, a new political cycle needs to be achieved.

The President Cavaco Silva is also finishing his mandate of five years, in January there will be Presidential elections, so he cannot call for early elections if any political agreement cannot be achieved. Also the election of a new President will not be easy, the left has more possible candidates than the right, and if the polls are right, as they were for the legislative elections, the favorite to win is a professor of law, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, a former leader of PSD.

The next government

The President of the Portuguese Republic is aware that new elections can only be held after April, already with the new President. He will do his best to find a consensus for this, in his speech was clear that next government must be stable and respect the international commitments. With this declarations he takes out from the equation the BE and CDU, that have some proposes that can compromise the international commitments, such as the exit of Euro and NATO.

On the 4th of October, the socialist António Costa hinted in his speech that his party would not vote against the State budget that will be proposed by PàF in the parliament, giving the idea that a compromise between the right alliance and the socialists would be possible. On the 6th of October, he proposed a big consensus with all the left parties to form an absolute majority. He started the negotiations with CDU, which assured Costa that his party will vote against the right-wing government. Costa talked also with BE and it looks that they can find an agreement.

If the left parties will find a consensus they can achieve the absolute majority and they can form government.  But it is not common in Portugal, the political party or the coalition that wins the elections is the one that takes the place of Prime-Minister. The President will definitely try the easy way that would be a troika government (PSD+CDS+PS), or at least a minority government of PSD+CDS with parliamentary support of PS, in some important strategic areas for Portugal.

Costa has being critized by some supporters from the last socialist leader, António José Seguro that want him to quit the leadership of the party, because despite all the Portuguese disagreement against the government the socialist was unable to win the right wing coalition. Costa accused Seguro leadership for winning the local and European elections with a small victory, making pressing for him to resign, Costa lost the elections but he did not quit.

PSD, PS and CDS can have more in common, than PS, BE and CDU have. Despite this António Costa will try everything to form a left coalition to form a government, this will be seen as a less evil, because if he can be Prime-minister the political loss will be smaller and can remain as the socialist leader. A left coalition will be also less stable than a right coalition with PS, but Costa already said that the European compromises are secure.

The deputies from the socialist faction that supports Seguro, are more up to abstain in the vote of the State budget than be in a coalition with the left parties. Costa will remain as leader but with PS divided will be complicated to make stable decisions, elections for the leadership of the party can happen but only after the Presidential elections, the party will try to show unity in other to at least elect a presidential candidate from their political spectrum.

While PS is with internal problems, the BE and CDU are putting pressure on PS to not support the PàF, also some of important socialists members are saying that PS need to be careful, as supporting a right-wing government can turn the PS into the Greek Pasok, that had big loses in Greece, this can also permit the rise of the far-left political parties. But at the same time, one left coalition can also be seeing as a more radical PS.

As the President Cavaco prefers, the PSD and CDS will try to convince PS to give at least its support in some reforms that Portugal needs to do in the future. The coalition will need to give away some of their ideas, but will not be easy. The left parties could be able to find an agreement just to not give another governmental mandate to PàF.

Moody's rating agency reported that the loss of an absolute majority will complicate the implementation of reform measures. On the 14th of October, we had access to the final results, giving 107 seats to PàF, 86 seats to PS, 19 to BE, 17 to CDU and the last seat to make the total of 230 is for PAN.  The new parliament will start to work on the 22th of October if there is any process against it. We will see more movements between the parties in order to find a stable government.

Portugal was seeing as a “good student” that quit its financial assistance program in the good way, but the instability of a minority government will stop some important reforms that the country needs to fully recover from the crisis. We will see in the next weeks if the political parties really care about Portugal and the Portuguese people or if their greed for power is bigger. They have now the opportunity to show to Europe and to the rest of the world that consensus and stability is possible between the different political forces in Portugal.

It is now the time to show that our democracy grows up, we are not living in the post-dictatorship time where the ideologies were stronger (CDU and BE may give up some of their anti-European ideas just to be in the government). Now the political parties need to give long strategic options that do not change as often as we elect new governments. Portugal, specially the Portuguese people, need a better future, they are full of austerity and crisis. More reforms need to be implemented and only a big political agreement can help pursue this goal.

The question that we have to ask now: will Portugal survive this and see its economy rising again with a stable government? or will Portugal return to the last years of crisis, with new elections soon?

A last note:

The election was one day before the commemorations of the 105th anniversary of the Portuguese Republic. The date is also marked, but normally not commemorated by Republicans: the anniversary of the Treaty of Zamora, this treaty between the first Portuguese king and his cousin recognized the independence of Portugal.