On the eve of the parliamentary debate into the 21st Constitutional Government’s new programme, the centre-right coalition parties ousted in what has been one of the most extraordinary episodes in the history of Portuguese democracy were preparing to present a motion of rejection.
It was not expected to get anywhere, explained RTP news on Tuesday, as the PSD-CDS-PP alliance remains in a minority. But it was designed to hammer home yet again the centre-right ‘distrust’ over what this new government will mean for the country.
With former ministers like Pires de Lima predicting little short of economic disaster, President of the Republic Cavaco Silva showed he has serious reservations over the executive led by former mayor of Lisbon António Costa at the most sombre inauguration ceremony a new government in a democracy has ever witnessed.
Stony-faced Cavaco – whose alleged affiliations to the PIDE secret police are currently being widely recalled – said he would do “everything left open to him under the terms of the nation’s Constitution” to ensure the country remains on “the current trajectory of economic growth, job creation and the preservation of external credibility”.
Leader writers explained afterwards that it was a threat that showed that although the president is not empowered to dissolve parliament, he can refuse to pass legislation, veto policies and sack the government if he pleases.
One commented: “With this threat, Cavaco says, prohibited from using the atomic bomb, he has neutron bombs that are just as lethal.”
But António Costa remains outwardly buoyant. Within hours of Cavaco’s threat, national tabloid Correio da Manhã was leading with the fact that Socialist policies would see families benefitting to the tune of over a billion euros – and Diário de Notícias was predicting Costa would delay presentation of the next State Budget until Cavaco was no longer in power.
It is a contention Costa himself has denied, but even on Tuesday DN was running with the story that the Socialists had come into office to discover “no work on the future State Budget had been done”.
According to the paper, preparation should have started in July when ministers draw up the kind of budgets they are hoping for.
“Generically, none of this exists,” DN explained. “Thus the new government cannot be expected to complete even elementary work before Christmas…”
Nonetheless, its programme was agreed upon the day after the government took office. Secretary of State for Parliamentary Affairs Pedro Nunes Santos described it as a “coherent document that breaks with the policies of austerity and the collective impoverishment of recent years and translates into a political strategy for greater growth, better employment and more equality”.
As the programme goes before Portugal’s new look parliament, the UK’s Financial Times was reporting that Costa “sees the country joining France, Spain, Italy and Greece in pushing for a more pliable approach to EU budget rules”.
The switch will see an increasingly isolated German chancellor Angela Merkel “lose Portugal as an ally in the battle for fiscal rectitude”, FT reporter Peter Wise added.
By NATASHA DONN [email protected]
Photo: From left: Paulo Portas, former deputy PM (CDS-PP), and Pedro Passos Coelho, former prime minister (PSD)
Photo by: MIGUEL A. LOPES/LUSA