Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa and António Costa
Image: António Cotrim/ Lusa

Marcelo puts PM on notice: “You have one year to get to grips with government”

Sources in Belém already talking of “swamp” – Expresso 

Portugal’s absolute majority government suffered yet another blow to its credibility last night as the 12th member was forced to resign in a hail of convoluted allegations.

Even President Marcelo joined the throng of criticism over such a poorly-chosen appointment.

Carla Alves – Secretary of State for Agriculture for all of 26-hours – is involved in various judicial investigations, all of them seemingly involving money undeclared, or allegedly incorrectly received.

Husband Américo Pereira – former mayor of Vinhais and one of the principal figures in investigations into suspicions of corruption – came out fighting yesterday, saying none of the issues swirling through the press have anything to do with his wife.

But his efforts were in vain. President Marcelo admitted Ms Alves was a political deadweight as a result of all the fuss – and in spite of the prime minister’s attempts to take the wind out of this latest crisis – a few hours later Ms Alves had tendered her resignation.

This morning tabloid Correio da Manhã – which has broken all the recent government ‘scandals’ – has even more potential dirt: Carla Alves allegedly “accumulated private functions” while working for the town council her husband led, receiving payments that the local general-inspectorate of public administration deemed illegal.

According to the paper, Ms Alves was ordered to return €68,000 paid to her during the years 2005-2008, which she did not do.

Vinhais town council was “summoned” to open a disciplinary process against Carla Alves, which it also did not do.

A complaint lodged with the Administrative Court eventually decided the ‘crimes’ had lapsed, but yes there had been illegality.

CM suggests the matter may still ‘live’ to be tackled at a later date. But for Carla Alves it does appear to be ‘all over’.

Whether she returns to her old job as regional director of Agriculture and Fisheries of the North has not been explained, but she’s definitely out of mainstream politics. And as CM says, “the name of the new Secretary of State for Agriculture will take a while to know (…) The government does not want to run more risks of choosing polemical personalities”.

Meantime, António Costa is on the ropes.

Put another way, there are pundits wondering out loud now whether this is all an elaborate chess game, engineered by Mr Costa himself, to be ‘free’ from this enormous national responsibility in time for the European elections of 2024, where it has long been suggested he fancies his chances as the head of the European Council.

But that is mere speculation. The reality is that politically he is on the ropes, with President Marcelo reiterating all the warnings he has been giving over the last few months

2023 has gone from being a ‘demanding year’ to a “decisive” one, explains Expresso.

“In Belém (the presidential palace) the government is assumed to be in “accentuated fall”, says the paper. But there are also fears that the centre-right PSD is not yet perfectly ready to take up the mantle. 

“Marcelo is not satisfied with the reshuffle, and has given Costa one year to save the absolute majority legislature”.

Costa meantime has told parliament the obvious: “the system of scrutiny of future members of government has to be improved”.

After less than three weeks in which four members have left under various dark clouds, it remains to be seen whether the PM can really grapple with all the loose reins and bring a government that appears to be careering uncontrollably over the horizon into some sort of line. (If he wants to, that is…)

Leader writers this morning show that one thing is clear: the perceived chumminess that used to exist between Marcelo and his prime minister is no more. 

natasha.donn@portugalresident.com