PM António Costa
If the government does indeed fall next year, it will leave the prime minister free to pursue his alleged dream of a plum post in Europe. Photo of António Costa by José Coelho/ Lusa

Crisis in government: is TAP ‘golden handshake’ the final straw?

With motion of censure already called, Opposition rounds on ruling PS Socialists

As the clock ticks forward to the final moments of 2022, Portugal’s government is in disarray. The ‘golden handshake’ scandal has prompted three resignations in two days; a motion of censure (from Liberal Initiative) and a call for President Marcelo to “evaluate” the government’s continuity (this coming from CHEGA).

PSD, the traditional second-party in government, is demanding the prime minister’s presence in parliament next week.

Politically, 2023 will be coming in with a bang (and possibly a few more whimpers).

PSD vice-president Paulo Rangel told a press conference in Porto that his party will “never get used to this partisanship of the government and public administration (…) this lacklustre and vile giving-up on the country”.

It is time for an “urgent debate”. The country has been facing what Rangel describes as “a veritable epidemic of political crises” in recent months – a “lamentable record”. There is “blatant lack of direction and coordination”, “erratic decisions and appointments” and a “sign of political degradation (…) The prime minister’s authority and credibility have been severely shaken” (…) Costa has “lost moral authority” as well as political authority, he said.

The “PS of ‘jobs for the boys’ and ‘jobs for the girls‘ has returned with greed and strength“, Rangel went on, describing a “juggling act” of “tricks and mishaps” and of “systematic obstruction” to the presence of governors in Parliament.

The country has an executive that is used to “announcing resignations after midnight”, he went on, calling on the Prime Minister to stop with what he called “European distractions”. 

“Costa can’t keep order in his own government, or in the country”

Carla Castro, candidate for the leadership of Liberal Initiative, has commented that the resignation today of Infrastructures Minister Pedro Nuno Santos only reinforces the general feeling that “there is no political stability” in the country any longer. 

This latest ‘scandal’ is proving one too many – hence why the party has presented its motion of censure.

Still in place for now as IL leader, João Cotrim de Figueiredo stressed that in the nine months of this absolute majority government “there have been 11 resignations, countless cases, public services have collapsed” (referring to health and education) and we are witnessing a “social security system that has no guaranteed sustainability, with the mass emigration of young people” and “an economy that is not growing as it could“.

“It is a government that in these nine months has shown a growing arrogance, of an absolute majority that thinks it owns absolute power, and also of a generalised climate of incompetence and irresponsibility in the country”, he went on.

CDS appeals to Marcelo to dissolve parliament and call early elections

CDS – the party that no longer has a place in parliament, but is clearly hoping to return, sees its leader, Euro MP Nuno Melo, calling for President Marcelo to dissolve parliament and call early elections.

In a note sent to newspapers today, Melo describes the current executive as “the government with the most absolutely unstable absolute majority in Portuguese democracy”.

He predicts that the resignations this far – including that of secretary of State Hugo Mendes – are just part of an endless drama showing the government is finished. 

“Governments have fallen for a lot less” than has been allowed to happen in Portugal in recent months, he adds. The government is “no longer serving the public interest (…) the Socialist cycle is over (…) The country is once again in a swamp, which compromises the normal function of basic institutions” (…) “Portugal needs another solution that brings confidence to the Portuguese people and reverses the current moment of disbelief and instability”. 

From the point of view of timing, this crisis sees President Marcelo poised to leave Portugal  tomorrow bound for Brazil to attend the inauguration of Lula da Silva’s presidency – by coincidence, another occasion mired in political tensions.

Thus whatever happens next, in spite of all the Opposition’s baying for action, will almost certainly have to wait until the New Year.

Delivering its request for an urgent debate in parliament next week, the PSD has suggested Wednesday January 4 as the date.

natasha.donn@portugalresident.com