A brief overview of Portugal’s current political situation

These are historical moments we’re living in Portugal.

For the first time since the birth of democracy (40+ years ago) Left wing parties are sitting at the same table, and considering partnerships for governing the country. These parties are, in order of number of votes in the last election: PS (32,4%) (Partido Socialista, literally translated to Socialist Party, that in recent years has leaned towards the center, away from its progressive roots), Bloco de Esquerda (10.2%) (Left Bloc, a truly progressive, young and youthful party), PCP (8.3%, running together with PEV) (Partido Comunista Português, the Portuguese Communist Party, with a very strong role played during the dictatorship years, working actively on raising the awareness of the common folk and toppling of the Salazar regime, much more moderated and grounded on the local communities than other Communist parties around the world) and lastly the PEV (Partido Ecologista os Verdes, the Portuguese Green party, geared towards the protection of the environment but also with a strong humanitarian side).

Voters line up in October 4th election. Photo by Fred Rocha

Voters line up in October 4th election. Photo by Fred Rocha

Together these parties have had the most votes in October’s election, and by joining forces they constitute an absolute majority in the Portuguese Parliament. Since Portugal is a Parliamentary Democracy, laws are subject to a voting in this Assembly, and can only be passed when there’s a majority vote. A Government that wants to have a solid and stable term cannot go against these powers, and that’s why the Portuguese Right is limited in its options to take power. Even if the Coalition that ran together was the single political entity with more relative votes (36.8%), it’s in minority when braced against a united Left. Simply because a united Left has a total of 50.9% of the votes, enough to cancel out any proposal coming from the Right, and enough to, together, pass any bill it deems relevant. Effectively the only group of parties large enough to rule the country. This is a primer in Portuguese history, since these parties have historically been distant and at times even in conflict. The radicalization of the pro-austerity Right and its ethically questionable 4 year term has had the paradoxical effect of uniting the Left. The commitment of the Left wing parties is to find common ground (there’s plenty) and establish a Government based on that. All parties involved in the negotiations know this is an unexplored and arduous path, but one they are determined to follow in earnest and that it will lead to a successful agreement for a 4 year government program.

How these negotiations are being handled

Since the night of the elections the second most voted political force (PS) has stated they would only topple the renewing Right Wing coalition if the conditions were met for a “positive alternative”. Ie, if on the Left side of the Political Spectrum enough parties were aligned to form a constructive political alternative to the Right. This demanded a tough stance and high leadership skills from the leader of the Socialist Party (PS) António Costa (a veteran, previously mayor of Lisbon). Being the second most voted political force in Portugal, PS has stepped up to initiate the talks with other Left wing parties to support a PS-led Government. This Government will necessarily be one made of concessions from all sides of the table, and it is still open whether members of Bloco de Esquerda or the PCP will have seats in this Left wing cabinet.

Bloco de Esquerda has just confirmed that they are happy with the agreement reached with PS. The jury is still out but PCP is expected to also come out and give its support for a document that will serve as a guideline for a future Left wing Government in Portugal.

Update (10th November): After PCP agreed to sign a Left wing partnership document, the elected Governement is expected to fall has fallen today. A rejection measure is expected to be was voted by the whole of the Left. After this, it’s up to the President to decide if to indite a PS-led, Left wing backed Government. It’s what the Constitution legitimately points to.

Update (24th November): After a long period of pondering and some swift back-and-forth talks with the Socialist Party, the President finally appointed António Costa as the Prime Minister of Portugal. The head of the Socialist Party is now going to present the Cabinet of Ministers of the next Government. It will be a Left wing Government supported by the Left Block, the Communists and the Green party, and led by the Socialist Party.

Watch the next episodes or pose any questions you have on the Portuguese political situation on my Twitter feed.

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