CAMPAIGNING in Portugal’s February 20 election is heating up with both main parties trading accusations of slander, inconsistency and political cowardice. President Sampaio has come under renewed fire from Prime Minister Santana Lopes for his decision to dissolve parliament. Meanwhile, the far-left parties are trying to ride on the tide of public disillusionment by saying that the policies of the PSD (Social Democratic Party) and the PS (Socialist Party) are indistinguishable.
Santana Lopes promises
In his most recent declaration on economic policy, Santana Lopes has rejected a call for lower rates of indirect taxation. His announcement came after Miguel Frasquilho, former secretary of state and vice-president of the parliamentary group of the PSD, had called for lower taxes on business profits (IRC) earlier in the month. This comes after unconfirmed speculation that the Socialist party intends to raise IVA from 19 per cent to 20 per cent.
Santana Lopes has promised that he would neither raise nor decrease taxes if he is re-elected but has left open the possibility of reducing IRC “in the second half of the legislature” if it is fiscally prudent. Bagão Felix, Finance Minister, stressed that he was “entirely in agreement with the Prime Minister” on the subject. But the Socialist’s economic spokesperson, Manuel Pinho, said that the earlier promise to lower taxes was irresponsible given the current economic situation.
Santana Lopes has also promised to introduce what he calls “shock management” in a bid to reduce State spending, vowing to save 700 million euros this year alone. “It’s vital to increase productivity and wage a titanic fight against public spending that in no way contributes to the wealth of the country,” he said. He also promised taxpayers that they would receive a breakdown of how the State had spent their money.
Santana Lopes has been accused of “slandering” José Socrates after he alleged that the Socialist leader had promoted key officials even after Durão Barroso had won the 2002 election. Santana Lopes said that Sócrates, who was Environment Minister at the time, had promoted Filipe Baptista to the post of inspector-general of the environment even after the defeat of his party. The Socialists denounced the allegation as “a lie” and demanded an immediate retraction. Santana Lopes later admitted he had made a mistake and said he tried to call Sócrates to apologise but the PS leader’s phone was disconnected.
Sócrates ‘runs from
debates’, says PSD
Socialist party leader, José Sócrates, has accepted a proposal by the Clube de Jornalistas to participate in a head-to-head debate with Pedro Santana Lopes on February 3, on channel 2. Santana Lopes was understood to be concerned that this debate would not reach a wide enough audience. So far, the PS has decided to limit its leader to just one such debate with Santana Lopes, a decision that has triggered accusations that Sócrates is afraid of debate.
The director of the PSD campaign, Carlos Coelho, declared that the party understands Sócrates’ ‘fear’ at the prospect of debating with Santana Lopes. “Sócrates is frightened of having his contradictions exposed,” said Coelho. “In a democracy, and especially in election campaigns, debates are not a privilege, they are an obligation. We want Sócrates to come to his senses and accept the debates that the Portuguese are demanding.”
The PSD also accused Sócrates of failing to put forward his economic policies and of contradicting himself on issues such as IVA, abortion and welfare benefits.
Sampaio still under fire
Santana Lopes has also made another sideswipe at President Sampaio. The Prime Minister said the President had called fresh elections because his government had “challenged vested interests”, namely the Portuguese Bank. “Who was the first Prime Minister to say that the bank would pay more in tax?” asked Santana Lopes rhetorically. He said he believed that the Bank had pressurised Sampaio to dissolve parliament and blamed the President for his administration’s instability, comparing his government to a besieged house. “When a house is pelted with stones everyday people get agitated,” he said.
Santana Lopes has also rejected accusations that he is merely electioneering by continuing to advocate projects during the campaign. “It’s a question of self-respect, devotion and conviction,” he said at the presentation of his Cidade Administrativa, a project that envisages the transfer of many ministries from Terreiro do Paço to Chelas.
‘consensus on economy’
Far-left parties have attacked what they see as cross-party consensus on economic policy. The secretary-general of the Communist party, Jerónimo de Sousa, has said that the Portuguese people could only expect “more of the same” if the Socialists win the election. De Sousa said that he is “profoundly worried“ by public pronouncements from the director and secretary-general of the Socialist party. “The central question is, why are these policies, which have failed workers for years, still being repeated?” he said.
The other main left-wing challenger, Francisco Louçã from the Bloco de Esquerda, has clashed bitterly with Paulo Portas, leader of CDS-PP party, over abortion in a TV debate. Portas championed the rights of unborn children, but Louça disagreed saying Portas had “no right” to speak on the subject. “He does not know what it is to create a life – I know because I have a daughter,” said Louçã.
Party posters stress stability
Campaign posters adorn main streets throughout the country, all carrying portraits of the parties’ respective leaders. PSD billboards stress stability (‘against winds and tides’), whereas PS posters, perhaps inevitably, promote change (‘Now Portugal will have a new direction’). The Communist party advertises itself as an advocate of what it calls “serious change”, as does Bloco de Esquerda. A conservative-looking, sober-suited Paulo Portas proclaims the CDS-PP party is the party of “determination” and “loyalty”.
Opinion polls point to a Socialist victory and most voters expect that José Socrates’ party will win outright, but recent trends indicate a slight strengthening of Santana Lopes’ position. Gabriel Hershman