Prime minister addressing nation
Prime minister addressing nation this evening: Image: SIC Notícas

Prime Minister addresses nation for second time over corruption probe

“Freedom of political action is essential”

Acting prime minister António Costa addressed the nation for the second time in two days this evening, leaving political commentators ‘open mouthed’.

The PM’s discourse began apologising for the ‘shame’ of one of his closest staff members being found with ‘envelopes of cash’ in his office has caused. He apologised to ‘the Portuguese people’. But the contrition stopped there. The rest of Mr Costa’s delivery was essentially to insist on the importance of ‘freedom of political action’ to attract foreign investment, putting it to good use for the country.

He mentioned the importance of developing the lithium mines of Montalegre and Boticas, as much as the data centre in Sines.

None of these projects flagged in Operation Influencer result from “merely arbitrary or discretionary decisions of any member of government”.

“Simplification creates transparency; bureaucracy harbours opacity”. 

And then there was a quick history lesson on conflicts ‘on the ground’: Sines was determined in 1971 as an industrial concentration zone when, in 1995, the Southwest Alentejo Natural Park was created and, “with greater densification”, the Special Conservation Zone in Sines…

After an almost surreal week in national politics, this was the ‘cherry on the cake’. 

Commentators stress they “do not know what he was trying to do”. In a first reaction to the speech and short period in which the PM answered questions, Mr Costa appeared to be holding “a rally against Justice and the Public Prosecutor’s Office, without ever mentioning it, but attacking it”, said political analyst Bernado Ferrão; giving all the reasons why politicians have been acting in the higher interests of the country, and the interests in attracting foreign investment.

Perhaps the PM is trying to dare judicial authorities to show all the evidence they have, and then, if it does indeed come to nothing, he can say “I am bigger than Justice”, said Ferrão – but none of this really makes sense.

It was an extraordinary performance, in which Mr Costa said he may never hold another public office again; prime minister’s don’t have friends and he still thinks the country would have been best served with a continuing Socialist government led by the finance minister (who is now in charge of the country’s central bank) instead of with early elections.

Within minutes of Mr Costa bidding his audience a good evening and a good weekend, analysts and commentators were trying to understand what had just happened.

Opposition parties were quick to put up candidates to say the country needs to ‘clean itself of the PS in government’ (this coming from Iniciativa Liberal). CHEGA’s leader André Ventura dubbed the episode “bizarre, inelegant and inadequate of a prime minister”, adding that Mr Costa knew that at the precise moment he was speaking, bail measures were being considered for the five ‘official suspects’ who have spent the last four nights in police cells. In Ventura’s opinion, António Costa set out this evening “to interfere with Justice”, appeal in some way to public opinion. “He trampled on the separation between Justice and Politics”, Ventura considered. “It is unacceptable”. Indeed, he believes all parties should “unite in condemnation” over what happened this evening.

Analysts were every bit as dumbfounded and are still talking about it as this text goes up online.

As SIC’s Sebastião Bugalho has stressed: “Everything that the prime minister said (…) should not have been said as an acting prime minister who is being investigated”. This was a “political night over Justice, beyond Justice and possibly even against Justice, or at least against the criminal investigation that is currently underway”.

What happens next? Mr Costa has said he is due to talk with President Marcelo on Tuesday at 5.30pm. Whether we have any more speeches to the nation between then and now is anyone’s guess. ND