IN A bid to gain cross-party support in parliament, Portugal’s President Aníbal Cavaco Silva has launched a campaign to fight poverty and social exclusion. In a move that has delighted the Socialist (PS) government, caught his far left opponents on the hop and surprised the right wing Social Democrats (PSD), the President, notorious for his dry, conservative economic beliefs, appears to have veered towards the centre left, writes The Resident’s reporter Chris Graeme.
Cavaco Silva has already contacted various unions, social, political and charitable institutions, and plans to contact the country’s main business associations in seeking their help to create a more just and fairer society.
Speaking last Sunday, the President said: “I’m not trying to go against the government with this campaign. I want to work with the government and public and private institutions in the fight against social exclusion.”
He talked about an attempt to invite all those with a strong social conscience to co-operate. “I aim to hold meetings with entities and institutions that are concerned with different types of social exclusion in various parts of the country,” he said.
The Head of State, who said that the details of the campaign would be unveiled shortly, added that it would be “a campaign involving everyone because we are all responsible”. Cavaco Silva made the plight of the poor, the elderly and the socially disadvantaged the central theme of his address to parliament, and the nation, on Tuesday, April 25.
The same day, in a reference to Portugal’s economic recovery, the President once again took the opportunity to urge the Portuguese to seek its economic success by investing overseas. Attending the 150th anniversary of the Lisbon Naval Association, in which 300 vessels took part, Cavaco Silva said Portugal must “return to the sea”. In this, he was making an echoed, if veiled reference to statements he made as an economist last year, before the election campaign, when he told young business studies graduates that the Portuguese needed to seek new overseas markets.
“I confess I would like to see the River Tagus with more sailing boats. Unlike other countries, our River Tagus has too few boats and less of a nautical tradition,” he said. “Portugal has to go back to the sea, as the ocean has a strong economic value, as well as a strategic and leisure one, for us.”
It had been expected that the President would reiterate stern warnings about Portugal’s need to balance its budget, reform its political, administrative and judicial institutions and improve its educational system in his April 25th speech to parliament. Instead, in a complete U-turn, the President concentrated on Portugal’s gross social inequality. “We should take on board the concerns voiced by the latest meeting of the Council of Europe in drawing attention to the link that exists between economic growth, competitiveness, job creation and social protection and inclusion,” he said.
Talking in Utopian terms, which bore little relation to the idea that economic wealth generates social wellbeing, he said it was worthwhile “casting an eye over our society and remember the dreams that the people had on April 25, 1974, in particular social justice. We were able to distil the idea of a free Portugal, one that was more prosperous, but we’re still a long way off from realising that aspiration of greater social justice.”
He concluded by saying that all political forces, national institutions, local authorities, civilian society organisations, unions and charities should bury their ideological differences and unite to fight for a fairer society.
Cavaco Silva was the first elected Head of State since the 1974 Revolution not to wear a red carnation in his lapel during the anniversary celebrations. The flower is the symbol of the April 25th Revolution, which swept away nearly 50 years of dictatorship.