EUROZONE leaders put their tenuous commitment to democracy on open display yesterday in their reaction to the Portuguese electorate’s turn to the left.
Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho’s Social Democratic Party and its People’s Party (CDS-PP) allies came unstuck in the October 4 elections.
Their partnership remains the largest formation in the 230-member parliament, with 102 seats, but this represents a significant slide since 2011.
While the neoliberal alliance dropped 10.9 percentage points and 22 seats, the Socialist Party (PS) gained 12, taking it to 86, while putative partners the Left Bloc (BE) won a further 11, bringing it to 19, and the Communist Party-led Democratic Unity Coalition (CDU) took a single extra mandate, reaching 17.
All three left-of-centre parties have voiced willingness to assume their political responsibilities by forming a coalition government and they have a clear parliamentary majority.
However, President Anibal Cavaco Silva, a member of the prime minister’s party, has asked Passos Coelho to try to cobble together a parliamentary majority.
He justified his decision by asserting that he could not give power to a government opposed to membership of the eurozone and even the European Union itself, claiming that “Portugal’s future would be catastrophic.”
Apart from the fact that political parties derive their power from people’s votes rather than the president, Cavaco Silva’s assertion is a red herring.
PS leader Antonio Costa has already pledged that any left coalition led by him would honour budget pledges.
Costa’s talks with the BE and PCP have the aim of drawing up a government programme to ease austerity, but with the proviso of respecting international commitments.
The president’s hostility to authorising a government dedicated to easing austerity is backed by other eurozone politicians.
Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy claimed that a government led by PS and backed by the BE and PCP “would be the first time in Portugal’s democratic history that the party which won the elections does not govern.”
His fellow conservative German Chancellor Angela Merkel voiced her opinion that a left-of-centre coalition in Portugal would be a “very negative development.”
Given Berlin’s role in bludgeoning the Syriza government in Greece into abject surrender to the forces of austerity, the Portuguese left must be on its guard if and when it gets to form a government.
Neoliberalism is the EU official doctrine and any administration that seeks to buck the trend will find all the bloc’s institutions and government leaders ranged against it.
Tipping Passos Coelho out onto his backside in a confidence motion might be the easiest part.
Portugal, in common with Greece, has suffered because of eurozone economic and monetary policies designed to benefit Germany.
Nearly half a million people have left the country since the 2011 election in search of a better life, leaving behind a 12 per cent jobless rate, a fifth of the population existing below the poverty line and national debt equating to 125 per cent of annual GDP.
Further austerity will worsen working people’s living standards, which is why voters plumped for something different from the outgoing government’s menu of tax rises and cuts in pay, pensions and vital public services.
Doubts may still remain about the sincerity of PS anti-austerity protestations given that party’s previous role in reducing workers’ pensions in 2011 in response to creditors’ demands.
Bitter experience and hard campaigns mean that there is a clear popular demand now to ditch the bankers’ austerity agenda.
This puts pressure on all left parties to act in a united and principled way.