Politics: Contraption’s first serious rift
Portugal appears to be in the middle of a sudden and unexpected political crisis. The centre-right parties have proposed that the now famous “9 years, 4 months and 2 days” of “frozen” career time of the professors of the public education system should be definitely “given back”, which may represent an expense increase of €800 million/year for the upcoming years. The “freeze” came among several austerity measures of the last years.
The two hard-left parties (the Communists and the Left Bloc) helped the centre-right to approve the measure. This was the first time, during the current mandate, that the four major parties aside from the Socialists (the two on the left and the two on the right) have voted together, leaving the Socialists alone.
Prime-minister Costa is now threatening to resign if this measure is definitively approved.
What does all this mean?
The “contraption” is the first time a Portuguese government is supported by a parliamentary majority of the Communists and the Left Bloc – hence the derogatory name attributed by a right-wing former minister which stuck, even with the media. The goal was to remove the PSD-CDS previous coalition government, and that was achieved with notable success, as we’re just five months away from the next general election.
However, the individual goals of the socialists and of their two partners are necessarily different. The Communists and the Left Bloc (BE, of “Bloco de Esquerda”) expect to see real steps away from the austerity years of the Great Recession bailout; the Socialists, committed with the high levels of public debt generated out of the crisis, cannot go that far – even with the prime minister’s rhetoric that the “austerity page has been turned”. A political crisis is not a complete surprise; on the right, many were expecting it long before.
Each of the three parties of the “contraption” will have to answer to its own electorate. Communist and BE voters will likely evaluate positively the move to take down former prime-minister Passos Coelho, but the parties will not want to be seen as mere “supporting canes” of the Socialist government. Voting alongside the right-wing parties seemed logical, in this matter.
What’s in the prime minister’s mind?
The move from PSD and CDS was less clear. Both parties have been claiming that their government (2011-2015, the bailout years) was essential to keep public finances stable, while the Socialists were in the charge during the years before the bailout (2005-2011) and now are allied to the “irresponsible” left-wing parties.
If they were trying to create difficulties for the government, it backfired spectacularly. They now appear to the public as parties able to risk public finances and getting the far-left support for it while prime-minister Costa is left alone as the defender of financial stability – a complete inversion of much of the centre-right discourse, lately.
For Costa, it’s the perfect opportunity to distance himself from everyone and slash his mandate for just a couple of months.