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  •  Antonio Costa (C), leader of the opposition Socialist party (PS)

     Antonio Costa (C), leader of the opposition Socialist party (PS) | Photo: Reuters

Published 23 October 2015

Those on the left control a majority in parliament, but the president says letting them govern would violate commitments to the European Union.

Portuguese President Anibal Cavaco Silva said he will not allow a coalition of leftist parties to form a government despite the fact that they won an outright majority in parliamentary elections held earlier this month.

The president said Thursday that he gave conservative Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho the mandate to form a minority government that will fall in line with the policy of austerity imposed by the European Union and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

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“In 40 years of democracy, no government in Portugal has ever depended on the support of anti-European forces, that is to say forces that campaigned to abrogate the Lisbon Treaty, the Fiscal Compact, the Growth and Stability Pact, as well as to dismantle monetary union and take Portugal out of the euro, in addition to wanting the dissolution of NATO,” said President Cavaco Silva.

He argued that it was too risky to let the Left Bloc or the Communists come close to power, saying the country’s right wing would protect austerity measures the left had threatened to overturn.

The decision outraged Left Bloc leader Antonio Costa, who called the president’s action a “grave mistake” that threatened the country's stability. “It is unacceptable to usurp the exclusive powers of parliament,” he said. “The Socialists will not take lessons from professor Cavaco Silva on the defense of our democracy.”

Parties in the Left Bloc ran an anti-austerity campaign than won them more than 50 percent of the vote in the Oct. 4 elections. Coelho's coalition won only 38 percent of the vote, not enough to form a single-party government. That prompted the leftist parties to form a coalition, allowing it to gain an outright majority that would, in theory, permit it to form a government.

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Cavaco Silva said it was now up to lawmakers in parliament to decide on the new government’s program, which must be presented in 10 days. If it is rejected in parliament, the government will collapse. The three-party leftist coalition vowed to reject the program as they, after all, control the legislative body, holding 122 seats out of 230.

“I give this government a week or a week and a half,” said Left Bloc lawmaker Filipe Soares. "The president will have to take the responsibility for the instability that will be created by this decision."

Critics portrayed the president’s move as an assault on democracy.

“Democracy must take second place to the higher imperative of euro rules and membership,” wrote Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, International Business Editor of The Daily Telegraph, a British newspaper.

Portugal returned to democracy in 1974 after nearly 50 years of authoritarianism.

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