By Satyaki Chakraborty
Portugal is facing the possibility of a snap election early next year as the Socialists Party Government led by Prime Minister Antonio Costa conceded defeat in Parliament on Wednesday after his budget was voted out by his allies, the Left bloc including the Portuguese Communist Party which has ten members .Ever since the last general elections in 2019, Costa was leading a coalition government with support from the Left bloc which was taking positions on economic issues, sometimes quite contrary to the ruling Party.
Prime Minister Antonio Costa was defeated by 117 votes to 108, with five abstentions, after left-wing parties, including the Portuguese Communist Party (PCP), refused to back the Socialist Party’s budget. It is the first time since the restoration of democracy in 1974 that a budget proposal has been rejected in Portugal. Costa said he would not resign in the wake of the vote, but admitted that it was a “personal defeat.” “I did all I could to make this budget work without adding anything to it that would be to the country’s detriment,” he said.
Fresh elections now seem inevitable, with Portugal’s conservative President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa saying on Monday that, should the budget fail to meet approval, he would have no other option but to dissolve parliament. According to the government sources, this budget is the key to reviving the economy with billions in EU allocated funds following the covid pandemic. Last year’s budget was narrowly passed after the Communist-Green combine abstained from voting.
The Communist Party has strong base in Portugal among the trade unions and the Party was under pressure from its members for taking position on the budget since it lacked adequate facilities for the workers. So the Communists said that the 2022 budget proposal did not contain enough for Portugal’s working class, with a lack of investment in jobs, housing, and public services in Parliament while voting against the budget.
The party’s suggestion of raising the monthly national minimum wage to €800 ($935) in 2022 and €850 ($993) in 2023 was ignored, leaving many thousands of workers facing poverty. “There is no future for a country based on low wages,” PCP parliamentarian and party leader Jeronimo de Sousa said during the debate. The party said it had no choice but to reject the budget proposal after its suggestions were rebuffed. “We will continue on the right side of the fight, alongside the workers and the people, because it is with them and with the defense of their rights and interests our first and main commitment,” MP Joao Oliveira said.
The government’s current four-year term is due to end in 2023. Due to constitutional requirements, the elections have to be held early next year to allow the spending programme to be passed in the new Parliament by April 2022. Political sources say that President will soon start political consultations with the parties and fix a date for snap elections, possibly in January 2022.
The current political crisis took place just when the government was poised to boost the economy after the COVID-19 pandemic by deploying 45 billion euros ($52 billion) in aid from the European Union. Prime Minister Antonio Costa has won appreciation from the EU member nations for his success in containing covid as also stepping up the economic growth during his rule in the last six years. Recent opinion polls indicate that his Party is favourably placed to be the leading party in the next elections but still be short of majority.
In fact, the political analysts still feel that there is some scope for talks between the Socialist Party and the Left bloc to avoid the poll through some adjustment of programmes but that should convince the President who is committed to hold the poll if the budget got defeated. Socialist Party will be facing the main challenge from the centre-right Socialist Democratic Party but this party is in bad shape currently due to rivalries among the senior leaders. That gives scope to the PM Costa who has good acceptability among the Portuguese voters, to fare better in the 2022 poll.
Costa belongs to Indian origin. His father was a leading figure of the Portuguese Communist Party and he was jailed during the Salazar rule. Present PM was brought up in that left environment but he became an activist of the Socialist Party, though keeping good relations with the PCP. His communist father was also a well known author. They have an ancestral house in Goa. Many left wing academics of Portugal look for an understanding between the Socialists and the Left Bloc including the communists for the sustenance of a welfare oriented regime in Portugal. In 2019 elections, the left lost compared to the earlier elections. In the coming snap poll, opinion polls indicate no better prospects. (IPA Service)