Portugal’s presidential elections: PS officially desists from fielding candidate

Just as was intimated months ago in the unlikely setting of an automotive assembly plant near Palmela, the PS (minority) government has stepped back from fielding a candidate to run against President Marcelo (formerly of the centre-right) in the upcoming elections in January.

The decision, criticised by many, gives renewed thunder to Socialist ‘firebrand’ Ana Gomes – who launched her own candidacy in September, saying it was ‘perplexing’ to see no-one put up by her own party.

Ms Gomes reacted positively to the news released last night, saying that it undoubtedly made her bid “stronger”.

Indeed, hailing all the candidates who have thrown hats into the ring so far, Mr Costa stressed that Ms Gomes ‘duty’ now was to “deliver resounding defeat to the xenophobic candidate of the extreme right” – the seemingly ubiquitous MP André Ventura (who has actually pledged to resign if Ms Gomes does get more votes than he does in the presidential elections).

As to the rest, it is up to everyone to choose which candidate they prefer. MPs, said Mr Costa, are being given absolute liberty to make their own choice, though the party itself has made a “positive evaluation” of the president’s first mandate. 

Marcelo’s “correct institutional collaboration” allowed the country “to return to a growth trajectory”; the president has been “decisive in the pandemic” and will “not cease to be important in the future” for the “reconstruction of Portugal”, said the PM.

In short, the red carpet has been respectfully rolled out for Marcelo who is almost certain to stride straight across it into a second mandate with a thumping majority.

This time round, however, things look like being very different. Says Expresso, “the cycle of selfies could have its days numbered”. So too could the perceived tolerance the president has given the PS over the last five years.

Change has been in the air for weeks, recall reports: Marcelo gave a telling speech while sitting at a café in Aljezur a few weeks ago, stressing Portugal needs much more stability in future, and “cannot go on living with its heart in its mouth” as parties argue about whether or not they will support the government.

And last week, during what many saw as a rather manic interview with RTP, the head of State recalled moments in history where governments fell post-crises, no matter what they had achieved. Churchill, for example, even after ‘winning the second world war’; Passos Coelho after steering the country through a devastating bailout…

“Only a miracle” could save the current prime minister from the effects of sanitary, economic and social crisis, said Marcelo.

It was another indication that the ‘rose-tinted honeymoon period’ enjoyed between Marcelo and Mr Costa may have fizzled into a much greyer kind of partnership.

So what next? Expresso suggests Marcelo “will only talk to the country in three or four weeks time”, finally announcing his re-candidature. At this point there will only be a few weeks left before voting, probably on January 24.

Due to the pandemic, campaigning will be massively restricted to the media/ social media, with almost no public events.

It’s going to be the strangest run-up to presidential elections than any inhabitants will be able to remember. But the prime minister’s message is for everyone “to play their part, and exercise their right to vote”.

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