prime minister António Costa
Sticking to his guns this evening, prime minister António Costa refuses to accept infrastructure minister's resignation. Image: Tiago Petinga/ Lusa

Political crisis takes new turn as PM ‘refuses’ minister’s resignation

Costa admits “many may not understand, but I am acting on my conscience”

In an extraordinary hour of live television, the country learnt this evening that infrastructures minister João Galamba has offered his resignation in the interests of stability – but prime minister António Costa has not accepted it.

President Marcelo – who has already declared Galamba’s position untenable after the farcical events of last Friday – has issued a statement on his official page to say that he does not agree with the prime minister’s decision.

Pundits who were already talking on prime time news about this latest episode in an absolute majority government that has been absolutely dogged with ‘cases and scandals’ since it took office interpret the president’s statement as “open war now installed with António Costa”.

Opposition parties will no doubt be dumbfounded by this latest curved ball. Certainly they took their time to react.

PSD leader Luís Montenegro had only just tweeted that Galamba’s resignation pointed to Mr Costa’s “lack of leadership” when the PM came down the stairs of São Bento to give his address, and show he was taking the ultimate decision of leadership.

Mr Costa did not look ‘comfortable’ making his statement – but he stayed put afterwards, answering journalists questions.

Tomorrow will bring much more in the way of ‘considered reactions’. If this is the prime minister’s way of ensuring ‘stability’, it certainly looks like a long shot: what he basically said was that Galamba has done nothing wrong, but his ‘sacked deputy’ Frederico Pinheiro has

Early reactions: first to comment on the unexpected position of the prime minister has been Rui Rocha, president of Iniciativa Liberal (the country’s 4th political force), who believes “what  the prime minister did this evening was a public humiliation of the President of the Republic“.

Rocha tweets that “the only way to restore democratic normality is for the President of the Republic to use his constitutional powers. Liberal Initiative takes full responsibility for building a real alternative that restores confidence to the Portuguese people and credibility to the institutions.”

PAN, one of the smallest parties in parliament (with just one MP) has said it is ready if the president decides to dissolve parliament. “We are witnessing a government that is hostage to itself and its absolute majority,” said PAN spokesperson Inês Sousa Real.

CHEGA party leader, André Ventura, has tweeted: “Is the prime minister mad? Has he completely lost his mind? Does he want to drag the country into an institutional war and exhaustive circus of lack of credibility?

Lusa takes a more diplomatic line, saying Ventura suggests the prime minister has shown “emotional imbalance” – defending the dissolution of parliament.

PCP’s parliamentary leader Paula Santos has said the comings and goings of ministers are, in the end, not the issue. The essential is “answering the problems of the Portuguese”.

The party has not let itself be drawn on the argument for or against dissolving parliament.

Bloco de Esquerda has described this evening as “an absolute degradation” of a situation that is already well out of line. The prime minister is “wasting time” that “the country doesn’t have”, says coordinator Catarina Martins, instead of reorganising his government.

Mariana Mortágua, due to take over as Bloco de Esquerda coordinator, said in her regular commentary slot on SIC this evening that this was a moment where António Costa could have shown he was willing to make the decisions the country needs. “He didn’t”. As a result, the country is “in a swamp”, she said – swamp being the word used in Portugal for when matters political have gone beyond control.

There is a pattern of lying in this government, said Mortágua. It goes a long way back,  involves multiple ministers, “and they are always caught out“…

This story will run all through the late night news bulletins and into the early hours.

Bottom line: pundits are actively musing whether the prime minister has set this all up for his own reasons. Does he want to be free from government, to potentially pursue a new challenge in Europe, for example?

No one can tell.

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