President Jorge Sampaio has begun moves to dissolve parliament and call an election after concluding that his Prime Minister, Pedro Santana Lopes, is not up to the job. A spokesman for the President said that Sampaio believes Santana Lopes lacks “the indispensable political conditions to continue to mobilise Portugal… in a coherent, rigorous and stable fashion”, in other words, to lead the country.
“The President has informed me of his decision to start the steps leading to a dissolution of parliament,” Santana Lopes said after a short meeting with Sampaio. He went on to comment that, as far as he was concerned, there were “no reasons for this dissolution” as his coalition holds a majority in parliament.
The next election had been scheduled for 2006, but political analysts say that Sampaio has been forced to intervene following a catalogue of incidents. These include budgetary problems, a downgrading of the country’s economic outlook from the Standard and Poor credit rating agency, accusations of the government meddling with the media and the party’s undeniable unpopularity with both businesses and the public. A recent Catholic University poll showed that 55 per cent of those questioned thought the government’s performance has been ‘bad’ or ‘very bad’.
A brief and difficult tenure
The President’s spokesman said that Sampaio has acted for ‘global reasons’, but many political commentators believe he finally called in his Prime Minister after the resignation of Sports Minister, Henrique Chaves. He was in office for just four days before he quit, citing a “serious inversion of loyalty and truth” by his leader.
Santana Lopes’ tenure has been almost as brief. He took over as Prime Minister in July, when his predecessor, José Durão Barroso, became head of the European Commission. Opposition party leaders called for an election at the time, claiming that Santana Lopes had not been democratically appointed, but President Sampaio allowed the 48-year-old former Lisbon mayor to take over without a vote. He did, however, warn the new Prime Minister that he must maintain stability in such areas as foreign affairs and finances.
Since then, Santana Lopes’ Social Democratic Party (PSD) has ranked poorly in opinion polls, trailing behind main opposition party, the Socialists (PS), led by José Socrates. In the latest poll Socrates was backed by almost 50 per cent of voters compared with 32.4 per cent for Santana Lopes.
Speaking to the Portuguese media, former Prime Minster and current EU head, Durão Barroso, refused to comment on his successor’s plight, saying only: “I have nothing to say. I am not going to comment on internal politics.” But Marques Guedes from the PSD, said: “The resignation of one minister has caused the dissolution of parliament – this can only create instability.” Opposition PS leader, José Socrates, simply suggested that Santana Lopes “was not up to the job”, and his colleague, Carlos César, agreed, claiming, “Santana was neither prepared or able to secure internal stability.”
Who will win power next?
The Social Democrats and its coalition allies, the Popular Party, currently hold the majority in parliament, with 119 out of 230 seats. However, it seems likely that the PSD/ PP alliance will be dissolved this week and analysts believe the party will struggle to appoint a credible alternative leader by February, as Santana Lopes has only just been officially confirmed as party leader.
Although he has proved a hit with the public, Opposition leader, José Socrates, only took control of his party two months ago and is still in the process of pulling together its policies.
Sampaio, whose constitutional powers include dissolving parliament and naming a prime minister, was due to spend this week meeting party leaders and the Council of State to discuss the situation – part of the required procedure to dissolve parliament and call an election.