Tuesday, March 9 is another big day in the life of Portugal’s President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa.
This is the moment he officially starts his second five-year mandate, after a stint in which the world as we all know has changed radically.
Dividing the day between Lisbon and Porto, the spritely 72-year-old with the energy of someone a great deal younger gave a rallying speech in which he described a “devastating year for life and health” in which heroism became a constant, not simply something that happened in an instant.
“We have to reconstruct people’s lives” in the months ahead – and this means a great deal more than “going back to 2019”.
“There will only be true reconstruction when poverty is reduced”, he said, alluding to the challenges stacking up nationally.
“Young people are in a hurry to see a fairer Portugal. We want to affirm a patriotism of these people…”
“We have to believe, we will believe. As Sophia Mello Breyner (contemporary poet and author) wrote: ‘in spite of the ruins and death, where every illusion has always ended, the strength of my dreams is so strong that exaltation is reborn from everything, and my hands are never empty’. Our hands will never be empty”.
It was a speech designed to make everyone feel ‘good’, ‘inspired’ and mindful that however hard the next few years, the president of affections means to continue his “closeness” to people, his “affection”, “honesty” and “rejection of presidential messianism”.
Bizarrely, the former presidents listening to the speech reacted very differently. Ramalho Eanes only left the reduced gathering in parliament after talking with Marcelo; Cavaco Silva – only recently in the press for ‘breaking from his habitual practice’ of keeping quiet (click here) – left without saying goodbye, writes Expresso.
Prime minister António Costa was clearly ‘happy’ with the overall message, saying at the end of “such a tough year in combat of the pandemic” and trying to resist the economic and social crisis that has been created by it, the Portuguese will have been comforted by the president’s message, as it was one that looked forwards to “strategic solidarity and institutional cooperation”.
Marcelo stressed repeatedly the importance of democracy, “stability without swamps (this alluding to the famous resignation speech by prime minister António Guterres), renovation that avoids rupture and abuse of power”.
He received a ‘more or less’ stirring round of applause: the communists and Left Bloc being the only parties refusing to take part in the clapping – and now it is on to Porto where Marcelo will be taking part in an ecumenical ceremony and visiting the Islamic Cultural Centre.
MPs have reacted to the content of his speech: saying there wasn’t enough said about the combat of corruption (PAN’s André Silva); there should have been more on poverty and inequality (PEV, the greens); there wasn’t enough about the workers (PCP communists), but overall, the centre-right and PS Socialists who command the majority were ‘comfortable’, which is exactly the feeling Marcelo means to sustain in Portugal: that of political balance.