José Luís Carneiro
José Luís Carneiro has presented a 50-page document on his strategy for leading Portugal's next government. Image: Lusa

PS leadership race hots up ahead of Portugal’s elections

Candidates present their strategies

With just two weeks to go before the PS Socialist Party elects its new leader, the candidates hoping to win legislative elections on March 10 are presenting their strategies.

What is interesting is the detail given to the plans and intentions of the initial ‘outsider’ in this race, José Luís Carneiro.

Before the shock of Operation Influencer, the resignation of the prime minister, and the fall of the government earlier this month, it was generally assumed (certainly by the media) that Mr Costa’s successor would be former infrastructure minister Pedro Nuno Santos.

But since the furore surrounding Influencer, a new ‘pretender’ has emerged, and he is now leading in the polls.

Mild-mannered interior minister José Luís Carneiro had never previously been seen as a potential party leader. His claim to fame was that he was one of the very few members of government untainted by controversy. But now that ‘allure’ appears to be pulling a lot of sway – to the point that in formally presenting his candidacy for leader of the party yesterday, he actually warned militants that they have “a decisive choice to make” when internal elections come over December 15-16. They are going to “have to decide” how they want the PS “set out for a general election, for dialogue with the Portuguese people”.

From Mr Carneiro’s point of view, his form of dialogue is the one most likely to win over “our main competitor, PSD candidate Luís Montenegro”.

Indeed, unless news reports have simply ignored large tracts of Pedro Nuno Santos’ strategy, it is surprisingly light in comparison to that put forward by José Luís Carneiro.

More significant perhaps is the reality that it is difficult to unsay what you have already said – and Pedro Nuno Santos has already said a lot to show he is fully prepared for another coalition with the more radical left, while Mr Carneiro isn’t.

Commentators have already suggested PSD leader Montenegro will be “much more comfortable fighting Pedro Nuno Santos” as the left winger is an ‘easier’ adversary, in terms of the ability to ‘criticise’ – while José Luís Carneiro is much more of a moderate.

How the pair’s strategies are presented:

SIC Notícias has referred to Pedro Nuno Santos’ strategy as one that sets out to “represent the plurality” of the PS.

“We have a party mobilised for this campaign. I’m pleased that our opponents are also making their way. The PS is a plural party, with different visions, our candidacy aims to represent this plurality and we have great support from the structures and militants of the PS, who give strength to our project,” said the 46-year-old who handed in his resignation in the fall-out of the TAP golden handshake affair.

“The PS leadership candidate also referred to some of the main points of the motion he handed in, including wage rises, access to housing and mobility”, writes SIC.

“In order to raise wages, Pedro Nuno emphasised the importance of investing in and developing the Portuguese economy.

“We want our companies to be able to produce more and better and that’s why part of our motion is dedicated to pointing out that we need to have a stronger, more diversified, more sophisticated economy that allows us to pay better wages in Portugal, which is one of our main goals,” explained Pedro Nuno, emphasising investment in science, research, knowledge transfer and support for companies.

“As well as increasing salaries and pensions, the former infrastructure minister proposes a reformulation of the welfare state, to improve people’s access to health, housing and sustainable mobility. To this end, Pedro Nuno’s candidacy advocates a “more qualified administration”.

When asked about the rupture he has been signalling with the policies of the current government, Pedro Nuno stressed that “there is a lot” that his team wants to continue, but there are also problems that “need to be addressed”.

“This government has managed to produce many important results in many areas. But we want to give it a new impetus. We feel that there are a number of problems that still need to be addressed and we want, within the framework of the PS’s values and principles, to respond to these problems. Starting with access to some public services, access to housing and wages and pensions.”

“On regionalisation, Pedro Nuno was in favour of holding a referendum. He says that Luís Montenegro “is wrong and does the country no good when he rejects regionalisation”. 

For the former minister, attributing competences to the regions is the way to promote the “harmonious development of our territory”.

When it comes to José Luís Carneiro however, SIC gives a great deal more space, adding flesh to the bones of the candidate’s plans.

From housing to lobbying: what José Luís Carneiro defends in the race for PS leadership”, runs the article:

In his document entitled “Por todos para todos” (For all for all), (Mr Carneiro) defends measures in the areas of housing, support for SMEs (small and medium sized businesses) and wages, and distances himself from the more left-wing parties.

“PS secretary-general candidate José Luís Carneiro promises:

  • to present a proposal to reform the electoral system in Parliament in the first six months of the next legislature
  • advocates a referendum on regionalisation
  • wants to regulate “lobbying”. 

His 50-page declaration of intentions positions the PS as a party capable of “understanding on both the left and the right, seeking broad consensus in strategic areas for the development of democracy and the country”.

On foreign policy, however, he makes a distinction from parties to the left of the PS, says SIC: “The rapprochement with other political forces must take into account the special context of the importance of Portugal’s role in the EU and NATO”.

José Luís Carneiro “also promises to present proposals at the start of the parliamentary term to “reform the local government system, following the decentralisation of competences to its bodies, on regionalisation and on transparency in the exercise of political office and high public office”.

On the subject of decentralisation, he argues that the PS “should raise and lead a broad national debate, with a view to making a statement on calling a new national referendum on regionalisation, the respective territorial model and the nature of the powers to be conferred on the administrative regions in the event of their creation”.

Regarding lobbying, Mr Carneiro “will defend the regulation of the exercise of activities of representation of interests before entities of a public nature with the obligation to register interests”.

“In this chapter of transparency, he also promises to establish a ‘legislative footprint’ register, which identifies the origin of draft legislation, as well as “all interactions between bodies with legislative power and third parties”, says SIC.

The candidate for the Socialist leadership also aims to clarify “matters of impediments and incompatibilities of MPs, namely with regard to the exercise of the mandate in accumulation with the exercise of liberal professions within the framework of companies that develop contractual relations with the State and other public entities or that litigate against them”.

José Luís Carneiro is also putting forward another proposal in this area, adds SIC: “The publicising of political office holders’ hearings with interested parties, as a contribution to the general public being well informed about activities of those in power, without jeopardising the autonomy of political activity, the preservation of which is fundamental.”

Internally, the PS will demand that all Socialist candidates for elected office sign a “declaration of commitment to fully respect the principles and rules pertaining to the institutional status they will fulfil”.

SME support programme and housing pact

José Luís Carneiro seeks to “immediately lower the cost of financing in the component in which the State can intervene”, ensuring “zero cost on public guarantees issued for SME financing with banks.

“Immediately establishing a maximum period of 90 days for all public bodies to repay the financing of projects supported by EU funds, which in the future will be lowered to 30 days, thus immediately increasing the liquidity of companies with financed projects” and “redirecting part of the funds coming from the European Union to SMEs to support the investments that need to be made in production factors for their modernisation” are other axes of this programme. 

In terms of housing, Mr Carneiro advocates a “national pact” to “significantly increase the public stock of affordable housing and encourage the construction of new housing and urban regeneration for housing purposes, by the private and cooperative sectors, aligning incentives in cases where the properties are intended for affordable housing”. 

According to the current minister, in order to deal with the crisis in this sector it is necessary to “provide short-term support to families who are having difficulty paying their mortgage instalments or rents, as well as providing an immediate response to the alarming growth in the number of homeless people“.

There is much more: “with regard to homeless people, Mr Carneiro proposes to act “in dialogue with the Episcopal Conference (Portugal’s bishops)” through “a programme of rehabilitation of the various facilities of the district diocesan centres, in order to accommodate people who have this need”, SIC continues.

“In order to support families with regard to the growth of credit, we propose the reinstatement of the IRS tax deduction for interest charges,” reads his document. 

José Luís Carneiro advocates a “reform of the inheritance regime and the inventory process, with the aim of facilitating the sharing of properties, allowing them to return to legal commerce, boosting their use, as well as optimising tax incentives and simplifying urban planning regulations, increasing taxation on vacant properties and articulating with local authorities to acquire properties with a view to converting them into public housing.” 

Wages, pensions and investment in education

“In terms of salaries and pensions, the candidate for PS secretary-general says he wants “a new ambition for the national minimum wage”, setting “the appropriate targets for reducing the gap with the minimum wage in Spain over the next four years”. 

In the education sector, he is putting forward a proposal for “the creation of a network of vocational schools“.

As he has said in interviews and public speeches, José Luís Carneiro wants a reform of the justice system with broad political support and the participation of the sector’s players.

“In this context, the creation of a Justice Advisory Council will contribute to this permanent review and to monitoring its implementation,” he adds.

There is a third candidate to PS leadership, Danial Adrião, but so far his statement of intentions has not been publicised. Reports this far have said his plan is to reform electoral law, and promote a medium-long term strategic agenda that puts Portugal at the forefront of the European Union within a generation”.

Source material: LUSA/ SIC Notícias