Portugal’s political crisis: government enters debate today affirming it has never gone so far to satisfy the left

Portugal’s political crisis enters a new phase today: the debate in parliament leading up to tomorrow’s first vote on the apparently deadlocked State Budget.

Negotiations have spectacularly broken down with PCP communists and Bloco de Esquerda – with both saying the budget does not go far enough to address the needs of the country.

PEV, PAN and non-ascribed MPs have already declared their ‘abstentions’ (which don’t count as vetoes. If more parties abstained, the budget could actually scrape through). 

The centre-right by tradition is expected to vote against. There seems very little wriggle room to avoid what President Marcelo has affirmed will be the next step: dissolution of parliament and new elections.

But there is still ‘time’: and that is what everyone will be using today.

Time and ‘various potential scenarios’ – one of which could see prime minister António Costa tendering his resignation, to leave ‘someone else’ to lead the Socialist party into the legislative campaign.

Permutations are thick on the ground: for example centre-right PSD leader Rui Rio is described as ‘keen to lead his party’ into the possible elections, but there is a strong contender snapping at his feet (Euro MP Paulo Rangel), making no bones about fact that he believes he would be much better placed to do so.

Last night, the government convened during an extraordinary Council of Ministers to try and plot the way forwards.

“A political crisis is everything the country doesn’t need, and the government doesn’t want it”, a source has told Lusa. This is why it has sought to be “so constructive” during talks with its former political allies with whom it ‘seized power’ back in 2015.

But there are limits to what the government is prepared to do – basically because it cannot afford to ‘break’ rules that will see Brussels come down hard the minute budgetary supervision returns (at the end of 2022).

Thus today’s debate in parliament will see the government give its final push for ‘good sense’: it will set out what it believes – that the State Budget for 2022 “enshrines very significant advances and relevant approaches to the positions defended by the parties that, in the past, made state budgets viable”, and hope that, if nothing else it can turn ‘vetoes’ into abstentions.

Lusa cites a source close to the executive question: “This is a budget that moves forwards, not backwards. It is a budget that in many areas goes further than earlier budgets. So if former budgets were vehicles of progress, how can this one be a motive for political crisis?”

Talking last night on SIC television, the channel’s director of information Ricardo Costa, hinted at the bigger picture emerging, which is one in which this government – whether the budget passes or not – has run its course.

After a debacle like this, it will be impossible to sustain the government, he said, suggesting everything really is pointing to the dissolution of parliament and elections some time in the early months of 2022.