President Marcelo

Corruption probe brings down Portugal’s Socialist government

President dissolves parliament, calling elections for March 10

President Marcelo is dissolving parliament, calling elections for March 10, 2024 – but ensuring the 2024 State Budget goes through.

To do this, he is leaving António Costa ‘in charge’.

The idea is that the State Budget passes through the committee stages and reaches its final reading on November 29.

At that point, the country will move into ‘campaign mode’. 

It is a decision that will have disappointed PS Socialists, who are said to have wanted to avoid elections at all costs.

The party’s hopes were that a ‘substitute prime minister’ could have been appointed, but the recent past has shown how this doesn’t tend to work (Santana Lopes was appointed prime minister when Durão Barroso ‘hopped off to Europe’, and the PSD government collapsed shortly afterwards).

PSD leader Luís Montenegro has already given a short speech on the inevitability of the decisions being given now to the people, and the urgency to restore credibility and confidence in a country that has never before seen the official residence of the prime minister ‘searched’ in such extraordinary circumstances – nor with the result that nearly €76,000 in cash was discovered in the office of the PM’s chief of staff.

CHEGA too has seized the moment to say the party is ready to face elections, and means to ‘win’. It would have liked a closer election date, but leader André Ventura sounded as ‘punchy’ as he always is.

Other parties are also giving their take on the president’s decision, stressing that they do not agree with the PS budget, and thus are not delighted with the idea that it is likely to go through.

But this is all ‘on the hoof’: no one call tell exactly what will happen next – whether, for example, the investigation led by the Supreme Court into the prime minister’s possible involvement will end up finding nothing, leaving him ‘free’ with his dignity intact; whether it will throw up further mud on the ‘main theme’ of cronyism and corruption, or how parties themselves will manage the next few months.

For now, the five arrested men – the PM’s former chief of staff Vítor Escária, his ‘best friend’ and lawyer Diogo Lacerda Machado, the mayor of Sines Nuno Mascarenhas, the CEO of Start Campus Afonso Salema, and Start Campus director Rui Oliveira Neves – are all still in police custody and due to start answering questions which could take the next few days.

Until then, everything points to all five remaining ‘deprived of their liberty’.

The rest of the night is for television commentators to give their take on how Portugal’s immediate future will develop. None appear particularly hopeful, suggesting whatever party ‘wins’ the elections in March 2024, it will be a minority government that needs to find allies/partners. But one thing has been stressed, Marcelo and António Costa have ‘ended’ the way they started: ‘united’, with the president showing great respect for the outgoing prime minster’s years of service.

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