Exclusive innterview with the Algarve PSD leader

news: Exclusive innterview with the Algarve PSD leader

JOSÉ MENDES BOTA, Algarve PSD (Social Democrats) leader and newly-elected MP for the Faro district is the son of a dry fruit merchant. The family business trades and exports figs, almonds and carobs from the Algarve and is now 160 years old. As well as continuing the family tradition, his father also enjoyed a spell in politics – he was elected President of Loulé’s São Sebastião Junta de Freguesia (parish) for a period before and after the Portuguese Revolution. A graduate in economics, in 1982 Mendes Bota became the youngest ever President of Loulé Câmara (and youngest Câmara President in Europe at that time) at just 27 years old. As well as holding a range of responsible posts in his political party and at council level, he has also served as an MP in the European Parliament (1989-1999). Apart from politics, he has held several senior positions in the banking and tourism industries and explored his passion for the arts, publishing several poetry books and music CDs. José Mendes Bota will be 50 this year.

You took a break from politics for a few years to concentrate on your business career, what made you decide to return to the political arena?

Until September 13 last year, it had barely crossed my mind to return to politics. On that day, a large group of PSD councillors and supporters from all over the Algarve, presented me with a petition asking me to stand as a candidate in the election for Algarve leader of the PSD. The politician, who lives inside all of us, made me accept it, in spite of my family and business life. I won, and had to take the consequences and new responsibilities.

You had only been leader of Algarve PSD for a very short time, when the surprise election was called by President Sampaio. Was this frustrating for you? With more time in charge could things have been different?

I assumed the position of Algarve PSD leader on November 20 and, eight days after, the crisis hit! I didn’t have time to reverse the negative signs towards the PSD in the Algarve, which had started to appear since the European elections in June 2004. My whole political calendar was turned upside down. I had been thinking of a political debate to prepare the party for the local elections (due to take place in October), but, in the end, we had to go straight into battle in very unfavourable conditions. I had been away from politics for six years. It wasn’t my idea to have tolls on the Via do Infante motorway, nor burden the Algarveans with thousands of euros in tax. Nor was it me who dealt badly with the offshore issue, which caused a relative crash in the Algarve real estate market, a blow from which the region has yet to recover. I had no time to reverse this situation, nor did the government, to recover politically from the austere economic measures imposed on the country, following a disastrous Socialist Party (PS) government. President Jorge Sampaio acted unethically and provoked political instability, dissolving a parliament that had a solid majority.

There was a lot of controversy surrounding President Sampaio’s decision to dissolve parliament. Do you believe Santana Lopes and his government were unfairly treated?

To dismiss a government based on odd incidents or because of the resignation of a minister is unjustifiable. In every government, we see these incidents and sulking ministers resigning. António Guterres had problems with Manuel Maria Carrilho and João Cravinho, but Jorge Sampaio did not dissolve parliament then. There was one rule for one and another for the other – double standards. Sampaio went to Belém, but, once in office, he never stopped wearing his party’s colours.

Do you have any comments to make on the result of the general election?

The climate that was created by the media against a government, and particularly against a Prime Minister and leader of a party, was just inconceivable. I cannot remember ever seeing something like this. The PS and José Sócrates were ‘carried’ all the way to power. There was a total lack of impartiality. For one (Santana Lopes), nothing was forgiven, even things that he hadn’t even been guilty of in the first place. For another (José Socrates), everything was brushed under the carpet and suspicions ignored. The PS made promises, but failed to explain how he intended to deliver them. Some promises are just impossible to accomplish. It’s interesting to hear the Finance Minister say taxes will increase, just before Sócrates took office, and then hear the PS campaign say exactly the opposite. This is surely a bad sign for the future. The result was bad for the country and indeed for the Algarve. It was like being faced with an electoral tsunami. We fought back heroically, we are alive and we will return!

Do you believe that, as a result of the recent yo-yoing between governments, the people of Portugal will suffer? The changeover in ministers surely causes delays. Has this situation caused greater instability for the economy?

Any election causes a delay in the economy of at least a year. Investments are suspended, new ministers need, at least, six months to get to know their files and become familiar with the key issues they will face. This causes delays in decisions being taken. It is never good to interrupt a term half-way through.

Could you explain what the PSD stands for? Will there be alterations to these fundamental policies now in light of the poor election result?

The PSD has a programme that contains policies and strategies for the long-term. This will not be altered because of a poorer election result. The PSD has been rooted in Portuguese society for more than 30 years. It is not due to the PSD’s programme that the country is not developing.

As a newly-elected MP for the district of Faro, will you now base yourself in Lisbon in order to attend parliament?

The Algarve will always be my base. Luckily, we are just over two hours from Lisbon. I will only be in Lisbon when the job demands it. I like to be among the Algarvean people, plus the air here is purer.

Which Algarve-related issues most concern you right now? What will you be doing as an MP to try to solve these problems?

The lack of water is one. It obliges us to speed up the building of the Odelouca dam and various other secondary dams, in order to prevent the drought putting the region in danger. It is necessary to have storage capacity. The construction of the Hospital Central do Algarve by 2009 and the functioning of the Faculdade de Medicina do Algarve are priorities. The restructure of Algarve tourism, in terms of its offer, marketing, sales and promotion, needs new measures like those that were outlined in our election campaign. Greater flexibility for various planning bodies, like Rede Natura 2000 and the nation’s ecological and agricultural reserves, is fundamental to fight the discrepancy in growth that exists between the interior and the coast. The creation of an autonomous Região do Algarve, through regionalisation or democratisation of AMAL (Grande Área Metropolitana do Algarve, an association formed by the region’s 16 boroughs), is an objective that will help this fight. These are a few examples of what we were planning if we had won the election. As the PS won, these obligations fall to them.

Who would you like to see as the new President of PSD?

I remain reserved and expectant. I would like to listen to the two candidates in the debates that are due to take place in the Algarve. I am not rushing to back anyone. I know them both well and consider myself a friend of both. Also I don’t know if a third candidate might come forward. Anything is possible.

Looking ahead to local elections, do you feel the PSD câmaras have performed well enough to be re-elected?

It certainly would not be down to lack of work if the nine elected PSD câmara presidents fail to be re-elected.

As an experienced campaigner with admired public speaking skills, are you looking forward to the challenges that lay ahead later this year?

Over the next eight months, I will be working for the party, preparing for the local elections – aiming for the most possible victories for our candidates. I will not be a candidate for any câmara. During the next 19 months, I will lead and co-ordinate the activities of the Algarve PSD, as the main opposition party, and try to ensure that the PS keep the promises they made to the Algarve people. Over the next four years, I will serve my term as an MP of the Assembleia da República and will defend what I consider to be the Algarve’s interests at every opportunity.