Portuguese democracy has drifted into a fitful fever
Caracas, July 13, 2013. The political crisis continues to unsettle the Portuguese economy as the governing coalition faces its fourth motion of no confidence next Thursday in Parliament.
This week, financial markets have negatively reacted to the continuation of the political crisis in precisely the way the President Aníbal Cavaco Silva attempted to avoid with his "National Salvation" plan. On Friday, the interest rates of the Portuguese debt bonds increased to a record 8%. In addition, local data shows youth unemployment stood at 37.7% in 2012; and at 42.2% in May 2013. Furthermore, the economy is expected to contract by 2.3% in 2013. Lisbon has more fiscal reduction cuts to meet this year.
In such context, the government has recently asked it creditors for more time to solve the political crisis before any further assessment on the adoption of the three-year bail-out programme. It would prefer it in August. However, the Troika (IMF, European Commission and European Central Bank) has yet to decide when to make its 8th assessment on the progress of austerity plan in Portugal.
And there is no political solution in sight. Despite the stated willingness of the main political parties to participate in negotiations for the presidential "National Salvation" plan, it is unlikely they would agree to it eventually. Nor will the Socialist Party agree to early elections next year or take part in a non-elected-government. Foretelling such standstill, President Cavaco Silva issued on July 12th, 2013 another communiqué addressed to the governing coalition and the Socialist Party. He requested them to agree to his plan as soon as possible.
During his weekly televised interview on Fridays, political analyst Nuno Morais Sarmento stated on the RTP- official Portuguese television – that the presidential plan for "National Salvation" was difficult to materialize. He also said that a presidential-led-government has become another possible solution to the current political crisis. This Italian-like-solution has been given increasing attention by other analysts while some have argued that a technocrat government led by President Cavaco Silva until 2014 would inevitably weaken traditional parties and the democratic legitimacy of the government.
On 12 July 2013, the governing coalition submitted to Parliament its State of the Nation report for debate. Prime Minister Passos Coelho never addressed recent events but called on all political forces to unite in the presidential plan. His wording was criticized by all opposition parties. And later that day, the leader of the Green Party, Heloísa Apolónia, requested a no confidence motion. It is the forth time this year the Passos Coelho administration faces a no confidence motion in Parliament over its performance. The motion was justified by the Green Party on the grounds that the current government no longer represented the Portuguese people. Prime Minister Passos Coelho welcomed the challenge and promised to show its majority next week. Even though the administration of Paulo Portas commands a majority of seats at Parliament, opinion polls show the PSD has only 26% of the current votes; the Socialist Party led by Antonio Seguro has 36% of the votes.
As the days passed by, it became clearer to all that the governing coalition was not given the presidential approval on its proposed formula to settle differences between its members. Neither the resignation of the leader of the Democratic and Social Cetre-People´s Party (CDS-PP) –Paulo Portas- as Minister for Foreign Affairs was accepted; his appointment as Vice Prime Minister was not taken in. Thus, the junior member of the coalition did not succeed in its attempt to gain a more prominent position in both government and the governing coalition. Besides, the leader of the Social Democratic Party (PSD), Manuela Ferreira Leite, expressed its unwillingness to accept any political formula that meant an increased power of the junior member of the governing coalition, that is, the CDS-PP. This revelation shows more unbridgeable differences within the PSD than previously acknowledged. By the diplomatic and tacit disapproval made by President Cavalo Silva of the appointment of Paulo Portas as Deputy Prime Minister, the administration of Pedro Passos Coelho has been saved from troubles within his party.