By Satyaki Chakraborty
Portugal may face another national elections early next year as the Prime Minister of the ruling Socialist Party government Antonio Costa resigned on Tuesday November 7 after the police arrested the PM’s chief of staff and allegations were galore about the involvement of the PM office in huge cases of corruption in the government.
The 62 year old Costa who has his ancestry in Goa in India ruled as Prime Minister since 2015.The present government was formed after January 30, 2022 elections when the Socialist Party on its own got majority of the 230 member Parliament and ruled for the last 21 months without depending on other left wing parties. Portuguese President Marcelo Rebelo has already accepted PM’s resignation. He is expected to dissolve Parliament and announce the date for new general election.
The stormy political development was sudden as the Supreme Court started examining suspects who used the PM office to pursue the corrupt practices..The investigators identified senior ministers and officials for involvement leaving no option left for the Socialist PM except resigning..Mr. Costa however pleaded that he was personally not involved . He said ‘ I totally trust the justice system and I want to say eye to eye to the Portuguese people that my conscience is clear of any illicit or censured act’.
The judge is investigating alleged malfeasance, corruption of elected officials and influence peddling related to lithium mine concessions near Portugal’s northern border with Spain and plans for a green hydrogen plant and data centre in Sines on the south coast.. The allegations involve huge amount and for the Portuguese people, the defrauding of the government over the lithium mine concessions, has emerged as a big issue.
Costa became Prime Minister in 2015 in the wake of acute debt crisis faced by the country. He steered the economy through a long crisis period in terms of unemployment and poverty but at the end of 2018, Portugal saw good recovery under his leadership. The European Union also appreciated his tackling of the problems in this perennially low income nation. In the last eight years of his rule, Costa was generally appreciated by the international investors. Portugal had a tough time during the pandemic but Costa managed it and all indications were that Portugal is on its way of economic recovery. Then this sudden turmoil is a bad omen for the Portuguese economy.
As regards the Left Bloc and the Portuguese Communist Party, both were allies of the Prime Minister Costa before the January 30, 2022 elections. PCP which has a big base among the trade unions in Portugal withdrew its support to the last Costa government over concessions to labour in the budget and that led to early elections leading to further consolidation of the Prime Minister Costa. This time, the government fell not due to the Left but for the investigations done by the Supreme Court.
As regards the Left, the last national election results gave a big jolt to the Portuguese Communist Party. The PCP had ten seats in the earlier Parliament and the Left Bloc another 11. With these 21 seats, the Left as a whole gave lot of pressure on Costa government in changing policies in favour of the working people. Some positive measures were possible and the Left took credit for that. The Communist leaders in their speech on withdrawal in Parliament mentioned of the party’s commitment to the working class and how the Costa Government ignored the Portuguese labour in its interim budget provisions. Costa government stuck to its budget provisions and the Left voted against the budget resulting in the defeat of the Government in October 2021.
Following the January 2022 poll results, an intense debate took place in the PCP as also the other left bloc constituents whether the withdrawal decision to the government in October 2021 was a correct one and whether it really served the interests of the working class. Though the centre right social democrats came a distant second at below 30 per cent of the vote as against the Socialists 42 per cent, the far right Chega emerged as the third largest parliamentary group with around 11 seats as against only one in last parliament. Thus the far right has taken the position of the Left as the third biggest force in Portuguese politics now displacing the Left.
Following the fall of the Costa government again, the PCP and the Left have to make a thorough review of the situation. The right wing rival of the Socialist Party Social Democratic Party, is sure to exploit the corruption issue to its advantage to emerge as the leading party in the next elections. The combined Left have to ensure that they retrieve the lost ground and emerge as a potent force in the coming elections in Portugal. (IPA Service)