[Marxism] WSJ: Portugal Government Fuels Debate About Democracy in Europe

Shalva Eliava shalva.eliava at outlook.com
Wed Oct 28 06:33:46 MDT 2015


Portugal Government Fuels Debate About Democracy in Europe
President sparked criticism after ruling far-left parties out of solution

By Stephen Fidler in Brussels,
Patricia Kowsmann in Lisbon and
Matt Moffett in Madrid
Oct. 25, 2015 4:15 p.m. ET

A decision by Portugal’s president to ask a fellow center-right
politician to form a minority government after elections this
month—rather than turning to a left-wing option that includes two
euroskeptic parties—has sparked a new debate about democracy in the

Similar questions were posed earlier this year when Greece had to
swallow the tough terms of a eurozone bailout even after the election
victory of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’s antiausterity Syriza
movement—and an earlier referendum that had rejected the bailout terms.

On Thursday, President Aníbal Cavaco Silva, a conservative politician
whose term ends early next year, appointed the winner of the Oct. 4
elections, Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho, to a second term as prime

In doing so, he followed Portuguese precedent in which the leader of the
party winning the most seats in parliament is asked to form a
government, even a minority one.

But his decision and his criticism of the opposing parties was condemned
by left-wingers across Europe—and seized upon by right-wing opponents of
the European Union in the U.K., who claimed democracy had been
subverted. The hashtag #PortugalCoup was popular on Twitter.
“You can have democracy, or you can have a political union in the EU.
You can’t have both. #PortugalCoup #ThisIsACoup,” tweeted Daniel Hannan,
a British Conservative Party euroskeptic in the European Parliament.
Stewart Wood, a pro-EU Labour Party member of the U.K. House of Lords,
tweeted: “Message from Portugal’s President: ‘You can have democracy or
the EU, but not both.’ Bad for the pro-European cause.”

Mr. Cavaco Silva’s sharp words against the bid by Socialist Party leader
Antonio Costa to lead a leftist government has sparked a wider debate
across Europe, given that he suggested he won’t allow the far-left
parties to be part of any governing solution.

“Never in 40 years of democracy have the governments in Portugal relied
on the support of anti-European political forces,” the president said.

The maneuvering is being watched very closely in neighboring Spain,
where another conservative government that, like Portugal’s, followed
Brussels’ austerity recipe faces a tough election on Dec. 20.

Mr. Passos Coelho’s governing coalition—which joins his SocialDemocratic
Party with the smaller Democratic and Social Center Party—won 107 of the
230 seats in Parliament. Mr. Costa’s Socialist party, which promised to
ease some belt-tightening measures but to stick to EU standards of
fiscal restraint, won 86 seats.

The Left Bloc, an ally of Greece’s ruling Syriza party that favors
restructuring Portugal’s debt and an open discussion about the country’s
future in the euro, won 19 seats, followed by a coalition of the
Communists, who advocate ditching the euro right away, and Greens, with
17 seats.

In Portugal, parties on the left have traditionally disagreed on key
issues, and many Portuguese doubted they could ever unite. They were
still working on an agreement under which the Socialists would form a
minority government with parliamentary support of the two smaller
parties when the president announced his decision.

Both the Communist and Left Bloc, Mr. Cavaco Silva noted, also have
called for dissolving the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, of which
Portugal is a founding member.

The Socialist Party grouping in the European Parliament issued a
statement backing Mr. Costa and said: “Portuguese voters were very clear
in the last general election with a strong majority (62%) against the
austerity policies of the last four years.”

Center-right politicians echoed Mr. Cavaco Silva’s concerns. “The
sacrifices made by the people of Portugal must not be jeopardized by a
government composed of anti-EU and anti-NATO parties,” said Joseph Daul,
president of the center-right grouping in the European Parliament.

At a meeting of Europe’s center-right leaders Wednesday in Madrid,
Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy expressed concern about a possible
leftist government in Portugal, saying “those things always end badly.”

On Thursday, he went further, sounding an alarm that “coalitions of
losers want to join forces to do away with moderate majorities in our
societies, to attain through deals what they didn’t achieve at the
ballot box.”

He attacked Socialist policies as producing “red ink, intolerable
deficits, negative growth and destruction of jobs.”

Since taking office in late 2011 with Spain on the brink of default, Mr.
Rajoy has used austerity policies and a loosening of labor market rules,
along with a cyclical bounce, to turn it into the eurozone’s
fastest-growing major economy. Nevertheless, the recovery is still
fragile and the benefits haven’t been felt by all. Unemployment remains
stuck above 20%.

A recent poll by the Metroscopia agency showed Mr. Rajoy’s Popular Party
in a virtual dead heat with the rival Socialist Party, in a landscape
convulsed by the emergence of two upstart parties, Ciudadanos of the
center-right and Podemos of the far left.

Spanish analysts were betting that the center-right Portuguese
government wouldn’t last long, but didn’t necessarily think a leftist
government in Lisbon would produce a catastrophe.

The Portuguese leftist parties “are going to topple” the government of
Mr. Passos Coelho, said Robert Tornabell, an economist at the ESADE
business school in Barcelona. He said that would likely lead to new
elections, after six months, and a leftist win.

But he expected the Portuguese left to govern less radically than its
rhetoric might suggest. “Outside of the euro lies misery,” he said.

Write to Stephen Fidler at stephen.fidler at wsj.com, Patricia Kowsmann at
patricia.kowsmann at wsj.com and Matt Moffett at matthew.moffett at wsj.com

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