Storm clouds stacked over PS Socialists’ next four years

Sunday saw PS Socialists ‘swept back to power’ in one of the most unconvincing election results since Portugal became a democracy.

Huge swathes of the country couldn’t be bothered to vote; populations threatened by lithium mining and high-tension power lines tried to block the opening of voting halls and the prime minister rather shot his party’s chances of a much-desired absolute majority in the foot by making a last-minute appeal for a free-handed government that could “say no when it’s necessary to say ‘no’ in the name of national interest”.

Only President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa alluded to the real issues stacking up for Portugal – to a large extent whether its political landscape is stable or not.

Exhorting citizens to make the effort to get to their local polling booths, Marcelo stressed “the effects of the international environment on our economy will certainly be important in the next four-year period”.

To coin that well-worn Shakespearian phrase, “therein lies the rub”.

The ‘good news’ that has bathed ‘everything Portugal’ in a warm glow over recent years is faltering.

Indeed, the world economy is in trouble, national media agree, alluding to “one of the most adverse moments since the last great crisis” (Diário de Notícias).

For Portugal, the Achilles heel is an economy centred on exports.

With the US-China trade war, the marked slow-down of Germany’s economy, the threat of a no-deal Brexit and new customs tariffs imposed on EU goods by President Trump (coming into effect as soon as next week), our country’s strong export balance sheet is set to ‘walk the plank’.

The economies of traditional markets like Brazil and Angola are tanking and Moody’s ratings agency recently announced that it was reducing its growth forecasts for Australia, Japan, Korea, India, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Russia and Italy – along of course with Germany, Brazil and China.

Say analysts, among these are “many large commercial partners of Portugal”.

PM António Costa is well aware of the storm clouds stacked up on the horizon. That is why he was praying for an absolute majority – to be able to make decisions freely, without his government’s hands being tied. But there will have been legions who breathed sighs of relief hearing that he didn’t get his wish.

Islanders facing expulsion from Ria Formosa, for example; communities threatened by lithium exploration; villages whose water is being plundered: they all now have a stronger voice in that there are suddenly 10 parties with representation in parliament – at least six of them of the left-leaning variety that goes out on a limb for their voters.

PAN – the People Animals Nature party – has suddenly got four MPs instead of one.

LIVRE, gunning for ‘more equality’ and real democracy, is now represented – albeit by a woman with a serious speech impediment.

Iniciativa Liberal has also made it to the hallowed halls, with former president of Turismo de Portugal Cotrim de Figueiredo its hero.

And Chega – a centre-right ‘populist’ party – has a well-known football commentator in the hot seat.

Combined with the left-wing forces of Bloco de Esquerda (suddenly the third most popular party in the country), PCP (bruised but not battered: it lost five MPs), and PEV (the Greens), prime minister Costa could be forgiven for thinking ‘how on earth am I going to manage this one?’

Tabloid Correio da Manhã suggests the way ahead is a revived ‘geringonça’ (the word given for the make-up of the last four years – a Socialist government propped up by the more radical Left in the form of BE and PCP) – but with allied parties (possibly to include PAN also) abstaining when the government’s policies don’t suit their ideology.

Says the paper: “Socialists are aware that the abstention of just one of the partners of the ‘geringonça’ is sufficient to approve all government measures.”

However, it has to be remembered that the parties of the ‘geringonça’ have not done well in these elections. In fact, at best, they have held their ground. In other words, voters don’t want representatives that abstain when the government is pushing for something that the party may not agree with.

There’s another ‘problem’ with the fracturing of the traditional two-party system (perhaps fracturing is too kind a word: centre-right parties have had the equivalent of an atomic bomb dropped on their houses).

Leader writer Octávio Ribeiro explains that the new political diversity is “a symptom of disbelief in politicians in general”.

Yesterday it was BE and PAN, today it’s LIVRE, CHEGA and Iniciativa Liberal… “behind these votes of renewed protest is the discrepancy between the words and acts of all traditional parties in areas like combat of corruption and ethics in politics.

“If this tendency continues,” warns Ribeiro, “within the next 12 years, Portugal will be the next ungovernable country” (following Spain which is mired in election after election to find a workable government) – leaving it “ready to be picked up by any providential dictator”.

It’s a sobering thought and one that was haunting the country’s president as he faced a marathon of talks on Tuesday, ‘welcoming’ no less than 10 political forces into the national arena.

Marcelo swears in new government ahead of key Brexit council
President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa told reporters on Tuesday that his main concern was getting a government ready and sworn in in time for the European Council next week where Brexit will be “number one” on the agenda.

This was done hours later, with the agreements that have to be made with minority parties now subject to various meetings.

The uncertainty over Brexit ratcheted up a gear this week following a purported call between UK PM Boris Johnson and German chancellor Angela Merkel in which it appears the latter told the former there was no chance of approving his ‘Brexit deal’.

Marcelo’s focus in the mounting confusion is that Portugal must look stable, even if all around it are at sea.

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