Portugal’s presidential campaign sees head-to-head debates start on prime time television

The ‘race’ for the Portuguese presidency began last night with two head-to-head debates: one on RTP 1 involving front-runner Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa facing Left Bloc candidate Marisa Matias (which went ahead with absolute decorum), the other on TVI24 pitching right wing André Ventura against PCP communist João Ferreira, which rapidly deteriorated into a chaotic slanging match which journalists have compared to President Trump’s first TV debate with the man who ultimately beat him.

These televised fixtures are unlikely to change the ‘status quo’: all polls put President Marcelo in comfortable first place to win in the first round. But they serve (or certainly could serve) to shine a light on matters that are not being fully addressed by the media due to the current focus on the pandemic.

One of these has been the “lamentable  negligence” – in President Marcelo’s words – of Justice Minister Francisco Van Dunem in sending the European Union “false details” on a CV that secured ‘the government’s choice for European Prosecutor’ over the nomination made by a committee of experts.

This is a story that has seen less diplomatic sources accuse the government of ‘deliberately lying’ in order to get the ‘man in Europe’ that it wanted.

Writing his weekly Correio da Manhã critique Panóptico author and doctor of sociology Eduardo Cintra Torres says the case “highlights a common, age-old practice” of a State lying to achieve its aims.

Indeed he suggests “lies of the State are the most dangerous form of fake news”. 

In the last month Portugal has been tarnished by at least two State ‘lies’ (or lamentable situations of negligence…): the attempted ‘cover-up’ of the terrible death of Ukrainian Ihor Homeniuk at SEF’s base at Lisbon airport , and the securing of an appointment for ‘the government’s favourite choice’ for European Prosecutor when the best candidate had already been identified.

Addressing both these issues in their ‘cordial’ debate, Marcelo and Marisa – herself running a second presidential campaign – did their best.

“It’s an obviously serious situation”, said Marisa. “I cannot find a reason to lie in a CV. Further clarification has to be demanded”.

President Marcelo agreed. 

The turbulent ‘head-to-head’ on TVI saw André Ventura call for the Justice Minister’s resignation, while his opponent “considered it serious if false information was deliberately furnished but wants to hear the minister’s explanation in parliament before making a judgement”.

Whether viewers find these debates worth watching or not they are set to continue through the week in this order:

Tonight President Marcelo comes up against fierce critic Tiago Mayan (click here), again on RTP.

On Monday January 4 he meets João Ferreira (TVI), while Marisa Matias faces Socialist Ana Gomes (SIC noticias).

Tuesday January 5 sees João Ferreira with Ana Gomes (RTP 1), while André Ventura returns to face Tiago Mayan (SIC noticias).

Wednesday will be a ‘highlight’ when President Marcelo comes up against Mr Ventura on SIC, while Ana Gomes will debate with Tiago Mayan (TVI).

On Thursday January 7, Marisa Matias gets her moment with André Ventura (SIC) while Ana Gomes faces Tiago Mayan (TVI).

The following day Ms Gomes will be meeting André Ventura on TVI, while Marisa Matias debates with João Ferreira.

Possibly the most ‘watchable’ debate will come on Saturday when President Marcelo faces Ana Gomes – another unrepentant critic (click here) on RTP 1. Marisa Matias will be debating with Tiago Mayan on SIC.

There will then be a couple of days pause before a ‘debate with all the candidates’ on Tuesday January 12.

All the debates start at 9pm and end at 10pm.

Voting opens on Sunday January 24, with postal votes laid on for citizens who may be in ‘Covid isolation’.

Points established by President Marcelo last night were that he will indeed be suggesting renewal of the country’s State of Emergency on January 7 – but only for one week to allow for further data to be collated. And he believes wholeheartedly that there will be sufficient political understanding to take the current minority Socialist government to the end of its mandate in 2023 (irrespective of any State lying…)

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