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Portugal holds first post-bailout elections

António Costa, the popular former mayor of Lisbon, campaigns earlier this week. (Facebook)

Portugal might be the only place in crisis-plagued Europe where politics still feel like they’re stuck in the year 2000.portugal flag

There’s no virulent anti-austerity party like Podemos (the far-left movement of indignados in neighboring Spain) or the plucky SYRIZA of Greek prime minister Alexis Tspiras.

There’s no citizen’s movement of the kind that powers Beppe Grillo’s Five-Star Movement in Italy or Czech finance minister and businessman Andrej Babiš’s ANO.

There’s no anti-EU group like Nigel Farage’s UKIP or the eurosceptic Alternative for Germany.

There’s not even an anti-immigrant force like the far-right parties of Scandinavia or Marine Le Pen’s Front national in France.

It’s still a country that only last year returned to GDP growth after four years of recession in the past half-decade, a country with a 13% unemployment rate, a country that has hemorrhaged hundreds of thousands of educated graduates to jobs elsewhere in Europe and the Lusophone world. Portugal concluded its €78 billion bailout in May 2014 ahead of schedule (and without needing a second bailout) after a program of income tax and VAT increases and cuts to social spending, wages, benefits, unemployment benefits and public-sector jobs.

Still, no one seems incredibly angry in Portugal about any of this.

Portuguese prime minister Pedro Passos Coelho and his deputy and foreign minister, Paulo Portas, campaign for reelection for their center-right government. (Facebook)
Portuguese prime minister Pedro Passos Coelho and his deputy and foreign minister, Paulo Portas, campaign for reelection for their center-right government. (Facebook)

That’s perhaps one reason why the current center-right government, headed by prime minister Pedro Passos Coelho, has such a good chance of at winning reelection on October 4, when voters will elect the 230 members of Portugal’s unicameral Assembleia da República (Assembly of the Republic).  Polls show that his center-right electoral coalition, anchored by the Partido Social Democrata (PSD, Social Democratic Party), will win the largest share of the vote. That’s probably only because Passos Coelho was smart enough to join forces with his junior governing partner, the more socially conservative Centro Democrático e Social – Partido Popular (CDS-PP, Democratic and Social Center — People’s Party).

Together, the coalition now holds a narrow lead over the opposition center-left Partido Socialista (PS, Socialist Party), led by the charismatic former mayor of the Portuguese capital of Lisbon, António Costa, who has served as a minister in several administrations, most recently as interior minister in the cabinet of now-disgraced former prime minister José Sócrates.

Although the forces of the united Portuguese right will likely fall far short of their 2011 electoral victory, the Socialists will likewise not achieve the same clear victory of the 2009 election. While that means the newly united Portuguese right is favored to win a narrow victory, it also means that no single party will have a majority in the National Assembly.

Another explanation for the election’s conundrums?

No one really cares.  Continue reading Portugal holds first post-bailout elections