Saturday, December 4

What has happened and what will happen in Portugal? | International

A few hours ago, the Portuguese Parliament voted against the General State Budgets presented by the minority Government of the Socialist Party (PS), led by António Costa. As expected, this document was rejected by the right-wing parties Chega, Liberal Initiative (IL), CDS-Popular Party and Social Democratic Party (PSD). What had surprised in recent weeks was the high probability that the left-wing parties Bloco de Esquerda (BE), Portuguese Communist Party (PCP) and Os Verdes Ecologist Party (PEV) would also vote against a budget project that the Government he had called the most leftist in years. In fact, during the 2015-2019 legislature, these parties were close allies of the socialist government, through a formula of parliamentarism by contract popularly known as lowonça: Costa’s Cabinet, in a minority, signed formal agreements with them to ensure their parliamentary support in exchange for incorporating some of their proposals into the government program. Actually, the lowonça had died in 2019, after the legislative elections of October of that year, but the consensus of the left regarding the Budgets was not a credible problem in 2019 and 2020. This time, the support of the BE, the PCP and the PEV to the Socialist budget proposal itself has faded, paving the way for the dissolution of Parliament and leading the country to early elections. What happened?

A possible line of analysis of the current political crisis affects the importance of the strategic considerations of all the left parties involved, rather than the particularities of the Budgets. It is true that the BE, the PCP and the PEV accused the Executive of not being sufficiently open to negotiation, neglecting their demands. However, these parties may have perceived that their support for socialist governments is costing them votes, and that a return to their traditional role as open opposition parties could improve their electoral prospects. In fact, for the communist-green CDU coalition (PCP-PEV), the last few years have been disastrous: compared to the previous electoral contest of the same nature, they lost around 190,000 votes in the 2019 European elections, 100,000 (and five parliamentary seats) in the legislatures of the same year and 80,000 in the local ones of 2021; an open wound for this party, traditionally strong at the municipal level, especially in the southern Alentejo region. The latest polls show that, if legislative elections are held, the CDU would experience a further decline in terms of electoral support.

The BE electoral debacle has been less pronounced in the legislative and local elections, but this party suffered the loss of 300,000 votes for the presidential candidate Marisa Matias between 2016 and 2021 and the polls show that, in the present state of affairs, some legislative they could represent a non-negligible loss of parliamentary relevance. In summary, instead of continuing to support the PS minority government and running for the 2023 elections in a scenario of continued decline in their electoral appeal, these parties may have thought it better to change their profile and return to their traditional role of frontal opposition, although this implies a political crisis and early elections, since this movement would allow them to attract the votes of citizens dissatisfied with the government’s trajectory.

In addition, although the PS has accused the parties to its left of having been excessively inflexible during the negotiation of the Budget, the fact is that the early elections of January or February 2022 may be the last chance for António Costa to secure the majority. absolute. By blaming them for the political crisis, the Socialists aspire to encourage the strategic vote of the left-wing electorate. At the same time, they would benefit from the current fragility of the main opposition party, the PSD, a situation that could be reversed during the legislature with an eventual change of leadership in the coming months, as MEP Paulo Rangel has recently challenged the leadership. by Rui Rio.

If this analysis is correct, both the PS and the parties to its left have made exceptionally risky moves. In fact, if Parliament is dissolved and early elections are called, as President Rebelo de Sousa threatened that would happen if the Budgets were rejected, the parties most likely to improve their current status are the right-wing Chega (radical right-wing populist) and the IL (liberal), since both the polls and the recent results of the presidential and local ones present them as very likely to expand their parliamentary presence. Consequently, going from one deputy each to several will increase the chances that both parties will be minor coalition partners in a right-wing Cabinet or participate in some kind of lowonça right-wing in the very near future.

What seems highly unlikely to happen in the next few years is the resurrection of the innovative left-wing collaboration that has taken place in Portugal since 2015. The Berlin Wall that separates the center-left from left-wing parties in the country is apparently alive. and kicking off, and the 2015-2021 stage could have represented only a small gap, easily and quickly repairable.

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