The unseemly squabbling over the contents of the next State Budget escalated over the weekend with various ministers giving a joint press conference in which they accused the left-bloc (of former ‘allies’) of intransigence, blackmail and even ‘trying to push the country to the right’.
President Marcelo has continued to ‘call for good sense’ (a quality that seems to be in short supply) while the smarting left-bloc has accused the government of bad faith.
In the gathering maelstrom (which will reach the point of no return on Wednesday, when parliament will take a vote ‘in generality’ on the budget) non-ascribed MPs – meaning MPs who entered parliament standing for one party, and then left it – as well as PAN (People’s Animals Nature party) have said they will be abstaining.
Abstention isn’t the cop-out it sounds it might be.
Television commentator Luís Marques Mendes explained on his Sunday slot on SIC television news, all it takes is abstention to essentially help the government over the wire without outwardly supporting it.
This, in his opinion, will be the way this budget goes: minority parties of the left may not like it, but if they abstain rather than vote against, the minority government can ‘save the day’ by scraping through to the next stage of voting without the country being plunged into further political crisis and ugliness.
As former PSD MP Marques Mendes explained, it will be political suicide for traditional ally PCP not to abstain (see update below), bearing in mind its ‘demands’ (over pension increases and free creche places) have essentially been met, albeit in a phased way. The lay citizen would simply not understand a PCP veto, he told news anchor Judite Sousa – which brings us neatly back to the point over a week ago where prime minister António Costa said a parliamentary veto of the budget forcing early elections would be “irrational” (click here).
In other words, with non-ascribed MPs rushing now towards abstention, all it will take next is for the PCP to say they too will abstain, and ‘all will be well’ (perhaps ‘well’ is an overstatement, but ‘disaster’ will have been averted).
The ‘chaos’, backbiting, hand-wringing and threats are tending to look more like theatre than any real likelihood of a government defeat on Wednesday.
But of course, no-one can be sure.
UPDATE: And to show how surreal the situation is becoming, PCP communists have announced this morning that they will be voting AGAINST the budget (not abstaining). The party’s secretary general Jerónimo Sousa has said: “Portugal does not need any old budget, it needs answers to existing problems which simply increase while they are not being addressed”. The party leader believes it will take ‘a stroke of magic’ now to avoid the budget failing in parliament on Wednesday. President Marcelo has said that he will have no option but to dissolve parliament if this happens, and call early elections.