Democracy is a collective mission - President on Republic Day
President Marcelo today: Image: António Pedro Santos/ LUSA

Democracy is a collective mission – President on Republic Day

Speech comes as government under fire for “doing whatever it likes”

Portugal’s president Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa used 11-minutes today, to mark the 112th anniversary of the implantation of the Republic, to warn that democracy is a collective mission – a work in progress in which all players need to be aware of the dangers of losing it.

“We know how mistakes, omissions and incompetencies – inefficiencies of democracy – weaken and kill it”, he said. “We know how dictatorships begin, what they are and how how difficult it is to recreate democracy after them”. 

It is unlikely to be a coincidence that Marcelo’s message comes against a backdrop in which the ‘absolute majority’ government has been seen as overstepping the mark when it comes to political ethics, but he used the moment, as he often does on these occasions, to refer to history, highlight similarities, and warn of potential dangers.

A hundred years ago there was a pandemic, a war and the rise of authoritarianism. Once again “we are witnessing new appeals for undemocratic authoritarianism – but we have and know what we didn’t have and didn’t know in 1922”.

Referring to governments, the head of State said they “almost always tend to see themselves as eternal”, while oppositions “almost always exasperate themselves by waiting”. “Nothing is eternal (…) democracy is by nature the domain of the alternative.”

Deftly dealing with all sides of the political spectrum, Marcelo’s words do not appear to have gone down too well with the country’s opposition factions.

PSD leader Luís Montenegro said it was “very pedagogic” – and that he didn’t see any of it referring to his party. “We have nothing to do with extreme political movements, fascist and xenophobic movements. There is no need to try and make this link, it’s a fiction”, he told reporters.

Bloco de Esquerda’s spokesman Pedro Filipe Soares seemed to think Marcelo was “resigned” to the government carrying on as it has been, “impoverishing the country, which is not acceptable…”

PCP communists too used the moment to rail against the iniquities of current times, and the need for answers (in other words, more or less ignoring the content of Marcelo’s speech to make another political statement).

CHEGA considered the speech “failed in the essential” by not identifying those “really responsible for the crisis in which we’re living”.

Only the CDS (which is struggling to recover significance after losing all its seats in parliament) seemed to appreciate the warnings, agreeing that “left and right wing extremism in Portugal are realities that grow in demagogy without ideas”.

PM António Costa at least seemed to be ‘happy’ with Marcelo’s tone, saying his government is “aware”, understands the expectations and necessities of the Portuguese people and means to “resolve the problems”.

“We do not talk”, he said. “We act, we do, we resolve. This is the fundamental function of government (…) Listening to the voices of the Portuguese people, we have to do what no one else has to do, which is find solutions to resolve problems…”

Mr Costa used today’s commemorations to outline his expectations for the coming year and the 2023 State Budget.

“This year we are the country of the European Union that had the highest growth, next year the recession in many European countries will not leave us unaffected, however. Portugal will grow less than it has this year, but we won’t have a non-growth scenario, even less a recession…” he said.

Mr Costa has had to go back on his words (most recently over pensions), so we can only hope at this point that he is right.

The government is due to meet with all parties on Friday to discuss its plans for 2023’s State Budget.

He told SIC today that the document is based on “moderate growth adjusted to the realities of the time”; “a significant deceleration of inflation” and above all on the “fundamental preoccupation” that key to economic policy will be the ability to maintain employment and sustain household incomes and the competitive capacity of companies”.

Marcelo meantime is now on his way to Malta, for a meeting of the Arraiolos Group, where, he says he hopes to “understand the answers that other countries are giving” to their citizens in response to the effects of the war in Ukraine. This too was another warning to the government. “Let’s see how the government is planning next year”, he told journalists. “I will compare it with what the government of other countries are proposing…”

As Expresso has concluded: “The President of the Republic is watching”.

natasha.donn@portugalresident.com