Portugal elects center-right government

The center-right Social Democrats (PSD) won 105 seats while the conservative CDS won 24. It gives the two parties a clear majority in the 230-seat parliament.

Question:

What kind of impact on the country do you expect from the center-right coalition?

Answers:

Paulo Vila Maior, Assistant Professor, the Faculty of Human and Social Sciences, University Fernando Pessoa

Considering stringent conditionality of the EU-IMF assistance programme, involving detailed measures Portuguese authorities should implement within a detailed timetable, I do not expect that a centre-right coalition will change significantly public policies in Portugal. Despite some aspects of the main coalition party’s electoral programme (PSD – centre-right) threw a glimpse of liberalism that was unprecedented for this party’s standards, the doubt is whether there will be leeway to enforce such measures. On the one hand, powerful lobbies are an obstacle to the supposedly liberal agenda that comes out from the PSD electoral programme. On the other hand, somehow surprisingly CDS-PP (right-wing conservatives) frequently claimed to be at the left of PSD in terms of social issues, which might block the implementation of a liberal reformist agenda.

All in all, the future government will face considerable challenges for the severe impact of austerity measures tied to the EU-IMF intervention. This will decrease the autonomy of the government, as many commentators argue that this government (irrespective of whether PSD or the socialists would have won the election) will just implement the EU-IMF reform package. Therefore, the claim that the centre-right shift will bring a substantial drive in ideological terms seems unfounded. Indeed, socialists in office for the past six years were forced to accommodate to the (so-called “neoliberal” stance.

Boaventura de Sousa Santos, Professor of Sociology at the School of Economics, University of Coimbra

The center-right coalition will try to implement the memorandum of agreement with the IMF and EU. The measures as well as the deadlines to implement them are very strict and their implementation entails a significant loss in the standards of living of the great majority of the population. The full implementation implies a major change in the structure of the state and in the state/society relations: privatization of lucrative state enterprises, partial privatization of health, education and social security, wage cuts particularly in the state sector. etc. It is likely that the implementation of these measures will generate social turmoil and protests. The government will be under attack and a left alternative should be available to replace it. I hope that the leftist parties will be wise enough to prepare it.

António Costa Pinto, Senior Fellow, Lisbon University’s Social Science Institute, Professor of Modern European History and Politics, ISCTE, Lisbon

It will have a majority in Parliament and with it more stability to react and implement the austerity measures agreed with the Eu and the IMF. There was not a electoral “revolution” past Sunday in Portugal. The major party of the center-right got 38% of the votes. The Socialist lost and the center-Right did win but the PSD will need to do a coalition with the smaller Popular Party. The country will suffer a lot in the next 3 year and a Government for 4 year will give the leverage the past minority socialist government did not have.

Manuel Loff, Professor, University of Porto

As it was clearly expectable, in spite of some strange polls aired during the campaign, blairite Socialists (PS) lost heavily the 2011 election in Portugal. Voters were very clear in rejecting José Sócrates (PM since 2005) social and economic policies, mostly after the 2008 financial crisis blew every effort to recover from a lost decade in economic growth (2001-08). PS had already lost half-a-million votes in 2009 (from 45% in 2005 to 36,6%), and now lost another half-a-million (down to 28,1%), while the two right-wing parties (liberal Social Democrats, PSD, and conservative Christian-Democrats, CDS) won 560,000 (the two together went up from 39,5% to 51,4%) and became majoritarian in Parliament (129 out of the 226 seats, 4 still to be called).

On the left, only the Communist-Green coalition (CDU) resisted the shift to the right, winning one seat in Parliament (from 15 to 16, 7,9% of the votes). On the contrary, the Left Block (BE), a post-Trotskyte and post-Maoist political experiment which became attractive along the last decade to urban youth and service workers which gradually felt uneasy with Sócrates neoliberal agenda, was abandoned by over 270,000 left-wing voters who, probably disappointed with the erratic political behaviour of the party in the last couple of years, decided to concentrate votes either on Communists or Socialists believing it could be more useful to prevent a right-wing majority. Thus, the BE fell from 9,9% to 5,2% and lost 8 out their former 16 seats.
The new right-wing government, nevertheless, is not expected to implement any other economic programme than the one already imposed to Sócrates’ government by the ECB, the EC and the IMF a few weeks before the election. PS, PSD and CDS agreed on the drastic social cuts plan prescribed by those three international institutions which they obviously prevented from discussing during the campaign. In fact, polls show that most of the Portuguese ignore almost every detail of these measures which will now have to be voted by the Parliament.

A growing number of experts agree that the plan may have the same catastrophic consequences as it had in both Greek and Irish economies, and believe that, the Portuguese having been constrained to pay higher interest rates than the Greek, it will soon become inevitable to renegotiate it. The IMF/ECB/EC memorandum includes some gloomy foresights: growing unemployment, economic recession, and huge cuts in pubic investment and social policies for the next two years. No economic growth is predicted before 2014.

If everything now points to a PSD/CDS majoritarian coalition, it is probable that both the EC and the IMF, together with the biggest Portuguese economic groups, will press the new PM, Pedro Passos Coelho, to open its coalition to the Socialists, as it has been suggested in the early stages of the negotiation. That will be more likely to happen when the new government will have to face strong social unrest. No doubts remain about the inevitability of such unrest.

Sandrina Antunes, Assistant Professor at the Universidade do Minho, Junior Researcher, Université Libre de Bruxelles (ULB)

The results of the elections were not a surprise. Everyone was, more or less, expecting it. If the doubt was floating before the election campaign, it soon vanished as soon as the day D arrived. Passos Coelho (PSD) and Paulo Portas (CDS) were elected in coalition and they are now negotiating to form the new Portuguese government but people voted for them not because they truly believed in their ideas or in their plan for Portugal but because they needed to change and find a renewed hope in the future. People don’t really know what to expect from them and from the future with the FMI on their back. There is a general feeling that Sócrates has concealed information from the people and general distrust is the key word to understand the results of these elections. Some people believe that Sócrates wasn’t prepared for the task and his latest reforms turned out to be a disaster for Portugal. He swore several times that Portugal wouldn’t need the intervention of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and some days later, the IMF and the European Commission were there negotiating a harsh rescue plan.

On the one hand, Passos Coelho is almost an unknown man, an inexperienced politician; on the other hand, Paulo Portas has left some discontent after his previous intervention in government between 2002 and 2005, so I believe that people are just waiting to see what will come out of this new government. It is not the first time that the PSD and the CDS come together to govern and normally this political alliance does not last long because of ideological discrepancies and personal antagonisms. People don’t really care if it is the right or the left that is governing in Portugal: they are just expecting politicians in government to do their job and rescue Portugal from the hands of the IMF.

In Portugal there is a clear notion that the state’s structure is mostly responsible for this current situation: it is too heavy, too expensive and it is governed by people who are not properly prepared to govern a country. Portugal is a country where people are responsible to sustain a dysfunctional state with inefficient policies and not the other way round. It is almost a nonsense state where true consciousness comes from below and not from above. People feel almost revolted with the current situation and are striving for Portugal to be back on track. They feel that they have been cheated and robed. It is the first time since the revolution of 1974 that we have seen so many demonstrations and strikes on the streets: people showing their discontent and asking for real intervention. People are very conscious of reality, and are ready to pay the bill of Socrates’ mistakes but they now ask for some real measures and real change. I really believe that Portuguese civil society is more active than ever and that it will not hesitate to make things happen by exerting more pressure on politicians with their own limited means. For the time being, it is just “a wait and see”. People have celebrated patriotically but they are now waiting for the day after.

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