Albufeira beach
Photo: Luis Forra/Lusa

Happy sunshine Easter overshadowed by political strife

(Almost) all the right conditions came together for Portugal over Easter: the weather was beautiful; there were tourists galore; businesses revelled in extra trade, and hotels reported occupancy levels of around 90%.

“Our best expectations for the Easter holidays have come true,” Algarve tourism chief João Fernandes delighted.

“The Algarve is estimated to have welcomed around one million visitors over the long weekend,” and as the school holidays continue “at least another week of strong demand is expected,” said the president of the regional tourism board.

Just on Tuesday this week (meaning, even after the Easter rush) another 15,000 people touched down in flights to Faro.

“The airport has been setting new passenger arrivals records month after month since October”, he added – and “the number is expected to keep growing, as several airlines have launched new air links or strengthened existing ones.”

While the wider world is living “uncertain times” with inflation and the constant instability in Europe caused by the war in Ukraine, the Algarve’s tourism sector is expecting to have a “better year than 2019” – the much-touted record year for tourism in Portugal – in terms of demand and a better year than 2022 in terms of revenue, said Fernandes.

Hélder Martins from Algarve hotel association AHETA has also hailed another excellent Easter for the region.

“Everything went well, not only in terms of occupation but also the great weather we had,” he told the Resident.

Event organisers also celebrated the busy long weekend, with events like the Albufeira Sea Fest, the Tasting of the Guia Folar and many other events attracting thousands of visitors.

With definitive data on occupation levels still to come, Hélder Martins confirmed that the Algarve was (and still is) packed with holidaymakers.

Photo: Luis Forra/Lusa

“Many hotels were completely full,” said the AHETA boss, adding that he hopes this successful Easter season will be only a ‘taste’ of what is to come this summer.

“We did not experience any unpleasant surprises, but let’s see what happens as these are uncertain times we are living.”

As all this went on, politically however Portugal was in one of the biggest messes it has been in for years.

In spite of the ‘absolute majority government’, with its mandate to rule absolutely, absolutely no-one is happy: public sector workers, investors, farmers, businesses connected to real estate, they are all ‘furious’ for various reasons, with calls coming from opposition parties for the president to dissolve parliament, call snap elections and wrestle the country ‘back from the brink’ of what they fear will be a form of institutional implosion.

“I have never seen anything like this in the history of democratic governments in Portugal”, former PSD prime minister Pedro Santana Lopes said in interview over the weekend. If nothing is done, he believes “more people will flee to extremist solutions”.

What has caused this level of concern? Essentially, the ‘TAP golden handshake furore’ which broke over Christmas, and which has gathered dirt and steam ever since.

A parliamentary inquiry into TAP’s management is playing out on the nation’s television screens, almost daily presenting new unsettling details.

As Correio da Manhã’s editorial director general Carlos Rodrigues considered on Wednesday, “one of the most surprising realities that have come to light (…) is the profound contempt for institutions shown by a group of politicians who are part of the young generation that, if they fail, will mortgage to a large extent the future of the regime (…) People who at a determined point in the current political cycle, managed the State like someone managing a blog”.

Rodrigues runs through the subsequently proved ‘illegal’ payout to a sacked TAP director of €500,000 approved over Whatsapp; the attempt to reschedule a plane “ridiculing the President’s dignity, and then the whole strategy to investigate something that supposedly was not known but which had been concocted in the shadows to produce a certain result”.

Portugal’s absolute power makers behaved as if they were playing a game “when a country was at stake, billions of euros belonging to all of us, and the very idea of basic decency”.

The tabloid’s editorial boss describes the country’s political leaders as “a bunch of cheap opportunists who have no shame – and who will continue in place” – largely because the president has made it crystal clear that now is not the time to dissolve parliament and cause further upset to the already delicate balance.

President Marcelo stresses Portugal’s logical opposition party (the PSD) isn’t prepared (yet) to govern, thus the PS must continue where it is, but “without further episodes”.

His words had barely been spoken and a new ‘outrage’ hit the headlines: the wife of the minister of infrastructures was described as in a plum job at the finance ministry, without the post having been duly declared in government gazette Diário da República.

Finance minister Fernando Medina raced to give his version of the truth, but there is so much mud flying about these days that a lot of it is sticking.

In Leiria, quietly, Henrique Gouveia e Melo, the lofty military ‘hero’ of the pandemic vaccination campaign, now commanding Portugal’s Navy, gave a speech in which he warned that there is actually so much more to worry about: ‘democracy is not inevitable’, and if it fails “a new generation of autocrats” will take over.

He told his audience in a series of celebrations for the 50th anniversary of Portugal’s own democracy, falling on April 25: “If democracies fail to present convincing arguments about the importance of political freedoms or if citizens become disillusioned with the way they are governed, a new generation of autocrats will be very willing to step in and take the reins of power”. And “if they succeed, the world will become more violent, corrupt and dangerous to live in”.

The importance of political leaders demonstrating integrity – and the consequences of what could happen if they don’t – could hardly have been put more absolutely.

By By Natasha Donn
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By Michael Bruxo
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