“… when there are so many problems facing the country”
Today (Sunday) national media is highlighting the concerns of Portuguese constitutionalist Jorge Miranda over proposed changes to the country’s constitution.
Mr Miranda’s focus has been on only one of the proposed changes – the increasing of powers of the President, which he believes to be “among the most dangerous” ever presented, “associated with dictatorial constitutions”.
As reports like these pepper the public space, very little has been spent highlighting other equally worrying changes which many believe will undermine everyday citizens’ freedoms and guarantees.
In the Algarve this week various volunteers have been out in force in towns along the coast, with pamphlets produced by ‘Associação 2126’ – a Portuguese pressure-group based in Lisbon actively trying to bring onside both nationals and foreigners living in Portugal.
Associação 2126’s main concern is with one of the changes to the constitution that President Marcelo himself has said is absolutely necessary: ‘revision’ of Article 27 referring to emergency law regarding public health.
“With this proposal for revision” leading parties (PS and PSD) “are suggesting that people carrying a contagious disease could be compulsorily confined, even without a judicial decision”, says the pamphlet.
Critics have already stressed that the changes to the public health emergency law could herald in a moment where a person “coughs in a public place, and is sent into isolation”
Associação 2126 believes the change would drag Portugal back to the times of ‘informers’: “Neighbours could complain about someone next door being ill, and the authorities would then have carte blanche to enter that home, without even a search warrant…” we were told, in the context of a public petition that is now gathering signatures.
The worst of these ‘fears’ is that they are being given scant – if any – mention by the national media.
Thus today’s warnings by Jorge Miranda – even on another aspect of constitutional revision entirely – will be seen as welcome, particularly as they underline the issue of timing.
Why now? When the world is facing so many problems. Why try and bring in changes that could affect people’s ‘rights and freedoms’ when most families are much more concerned with how to balance their monthly housekeeping?
Is this simply being seen as a ‘good time to push something like this through’?
Jorge Miranda certainly believes Constitutional Court judges will need to be on their toes.
And here is another ‘moot point’. He tells TSF Rádio/ Jornal de Notícias there is a “serious problem” in the Constitutional Court right now (perhaps part of the reason these changes are being aired in the public space): “there are one or two judges whose mandates have ended – and those who should succeed them have not been co-opted (…) and I think that is dangerous”.
Pundits have long warned of the Pandora’s Box nature of tinkering with the constitution.
Mr Miranda believes the PSD suggestion to increase the terms of office and powers of the president is returning dangerously to the times of dictatorship.
“A very long presidential term of office was what existed in the 1933 constitution (…) it is only in constitutions in a dictatorial sense that PR (President of the Republic) mandates are very long,” he explains
And he stressed that the whole focus on the constitution, right now, is “regrettable (…) when there are so many problems facing the country”.
The interview also touched on “the growth of the far right” – another frequent bleat in national politics, albeit the anathema of all opposition parties towards Portugal’s right wing CHEGA is ever-present: even the furore over alleged political meddling in the Bank of Portugal has, this far, undermined CHEGA’s call for a parliamentary inquiry.
According to Mr Miranda, it is CHEGA that triggered this zeal to revise the constitution – other parties should simply step aside.
“There is no need for the PSD and PS to present projects”, he told his interviewers. Yet they have. They have presented several, in fact.
CHEGA’s proposals, by and large, are “inadmissible” says Jorge Miranda. “There is only one proposal that I find favourable, which is in the sense of valuing the Portuguese language. The rest is extremely dangerous.
“And, I say again, what the other democratic parties should do is to sit back and let Chega present projects“.