Portugal; Eurozone and NATO confront election victors

The failure of the Portuguese left to combat the opportunism of the Portuguese Socialist Party effectively and force it into an electoral alliance before the 4 October parliamentary elections, gave room for the state president to refuse to invite them to form a government despite electoral gains by both the Socialist and Left Bloc parties. President Anibal Cavaco Silva’s obstruction directly reflects European financial interests and NATO’s political pressures.

In an openly reactionary step, President Silva was able to refuse to invite a coalition of electorally successful but disunited left parties to form a government on the grounds that in any case the left would violate existing commitments to the EU/IMF – the Lisbon Treaty, the Fiscal Compact, the Growth and Stability Pact, the euro itself and NATO. Constitutionally, a presidential election in January prevents another parliamentary election until June, so a government should be formed out of the recent election results. Thus on 22 October, gambling on continued divisions on the left, the president gave the incumbent, yet electorally defeated, Prime Minister, Pedro Passos Coelho, a new mandate to form a minority government. Coelho’s right-wing coalition won only 36.8 % of the vote. His ‘Portugal Ahead’ alliance of the conservative Social Democratic Party plus the neoliberal Democratic and Social Centre People’s Party is committed to maintaining the austerity programme agreed in the €78bn European Commission/European Central Bank/IMF bailout of 2011.

Reinstated, the old government immediately and inevitably suffered a no confidence vote in Parliament on 10 November, and was forced to resign. The immediate cause of what appeared to be a possible challenge to Europe’s financial elites was the belated alliance made on 8 November between Antonio Costa’s Socialist Party (PS), Catarina Martins’ Left Bloc (founded in 1999) and Jeronimo de Sousa’s Portuguese Communist Party (PCP), which ran in a coalition with the Greens as the Unitary Democratic Coalitaion. These took 32.4% of the votes and so 85 seats, 10.19% with 19 seats, and 8.3% of the vote and 17 seats, respectively. The Left Bloc nearly doubled its vote, from 5.2% to 10.2%, while that for the PCP improved only slightly, from 7.9% to 8.3%. Before the election the PCP and the Left Bloc did not unite, leaving the PS as the attraction for the working class. This explains its relatively high level of support, in a poll however which had a 44% abstention rate. The smaller left forces will now guarantee this new PS-led alliance its stability if the PS adds 70 extra measures to its election programme, including avoiding higher taxes on workers and protection of wages and pensions.

The previous leader of the anti-communist PS, Jose Socrates, was arrested in 2014 accused of money laundering and corruption. The opportunist PS governed in coalition with the right but has now taken an unprecedented step to work with left parties, because of pressure from the working class, and especially through the Left Bloc. However to do this the Left Bloc itself has now put aside demands for debt restructuring and quitting euro membership.

Even though 485,000 workers left Portugal to find work between 2011 and 2014, youth unemployment runs at 31.8% with 12% unemployment overall. Average household income has fallen 8.9% since 2009 and 18% live below the poverty line (60% median income) a year. Portugal’s debt-to-GDP ratio still remains about 130% compared to 60% in 2008, a figure used to justify attacks on the country’s health service and pension systems. Mass protest against austerity has not been as strong as in Greece; consequently the left has not been tempered by significant resistance.

President Cavaco Silva is the eurozone’s man. On 23 November the 19-strong group of finance ministers that runs the eurozone’s Stability and Growth Pact demanded that Portugal produce a draft budgetary plan for inspection, which it had failed to do by 15 October because of the election. Cavaco Silva insisted that any coalition committed to the austerity agreement before it was invited to form a government. Only on 24 November, after seven weeks, was Antonio Costa appointed as Prime Minister-designate. Sufficient pressure had been asserted for Costa to agree to six key conditions, including meeting eurozone budget rules and respect for Portugal’s NATO role. The Portuguese left was forced to swallow a similar pill after the 1974-75 revolution. The shock of the humiliation of Greece’s Syriza government at the hands of the EU/IMF/ECB troika has inhibited the fight against austerity in Portugal – for the moment.

Alvaro Michaels

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 248 December 2015/January 2016


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