Chris Graeme reports from the last PSD presidential election dinner
CANDIDATE FOR the PSD’s internal presidential elections, Luís Marques Mendes launched a stinging attack against the PS government last Wednesday, May 3.
Speaking to 1,500 party faithful at the last of a round of dinners at Lisbon’s Estufa Fria botanical gardens, the front runner said the first year of José Sócrates government “had been lost”, a year in which Portugal had gone backwards not forwards.
He went on to be re-elected as leader of the PSD on Friday, May 5, after two disastrous years which have seen his party embroiled in political scandals, accusations of incompetence, and policies that differ little from that of the socialist opposition.
“The country has got worse, Portugal has gone backwards and the finger cannot be pointed at a bad legacy from the previous government, or the general international climate, but only at the socialist government,” he said.
“It is essential that the government reforms the social security system, but at the same time, no social security system can possibly survive if the government doesn’t pursue wealth creation policies,” he added.
He said the government’s policy of raising taxes and reducing pensions would only lead to further impoverishing of the country, while it had yet to define a strategy to help companies create wealth.
“What strategy does the government have to kick-start competitiveness in our economy, to help the export market, for professional training and education, for agriculture?” he asked.
“It seems to me that there is an enormous gulf between the country that the PS think they are creating and the reality of how the Portuguese actually live, as laid out by the Bank of Portugal,” he added.
During his after dinner keynote speech, the contender called on the party faithful to “fight against abstentionism”, underlining that each party member’s vote was critical to show the party’s “vitality, optimism, and fighting spirit.”
“Party guidelines are not a point of arrival but rather a point of departure,” he said making four promises to the party members, resurrecting ideas that he has been promoting since he took the helm at the PSD one year ago.
These were: “a permanent struggle in the defence of credibility, and the necessity of carrying out policies with seriousness, ethics, and values.”
“Credibility is one of the most important values that must be shown by any responsible politician,” said Mendes.
After voting in Fafe, his home town, the re-elected leader repeated phrases he has made throughout his campaign, namely to rebuild a serious alternative to the government and win the elections in 2009.
Following Friday’s elections, the PSD now has the long process of reorganising the party, with clear consistent policies, which differ little from what the present government is trying to do. Those policies are:
• reducing the public spending deficit,
• seeking new external markets for the country’s businesses abroad,
• creating a climate of innovation and competitiveness,
• re-organising and pruning down the public administration,
•overhauling the social security and pension system,
• modernising and improving the efficiency of the education and health systems,
• simplifying the tax system,
• encouraging and stimulating private and public investment,
• reforming the judicial system.
For many political analysts in Portugal, the two main political parties concentrate their energies far too often on capitalising on public discontent, and trying to pull down the government in power.
Political science historians, António Costa Pinto and Adelino Maltez, say the problem in Portugal is that the political parties consistently fail to come up with anything new, adding that oppositions do not defeat governments, mishandling of the economy and failure to implement policies adequately do.
Adelino Maltez believes that successive governments, whether left or right, always think in the short term and try and satisfy public opinion.
Antonio dos Santos, one of the militants at the election rally explained to The Resident; “The problem is that both parties know what the problems are, but are frightened to carry out the necessary reforms which might prove unpopular to solve them. The result is that, as in France, they never go far enough.” Another problem was that Portugal had consistently failed to throw up strong charismatic leaders prepared to put their money where their mouth is.
“You were lucky in Great Britain that you had a politician in Margaret Thatcher, in the 1980s, that was not only charismatic, but was prepared to take extremely unpopular measures, even if it did mean crushing the unions to do it. Ultimately, she was sacrificed by her own party, but by then, the painful and necessary reforms had successfully been carried out.”