Saturday, November 21, 2015

Portugal's new fight for democracy

As the left majority in the Portuguese Parliament continue to press its demand to form a government, I find myself thinking back to the acute phase of the Greek crisis earlier this year.

If the left majority takes power and seriously pushes back against the austerity measures, Angela Merkel's government is likely to retaliate. The ECB can bring enormous pressure on Portugal by withdrawing support from Portuguese banks in a similar way to what it did to coerce the Greek government into surrendering on austerity. Merkel also clearly wanted to punish the Greek voters for daring to vote against her Hebert Hoover/Heinrich Brüning austerity policy.

Since the attacks from Germany and the ECB forced a new election but returned Alexis Tsipras and his anti-austerity coalition back to power anyway, they may take a different approach with Portugal. But their pressure against Greece did force Tsipras to accept a continuation of the ruinous austerity program. So they have a tried-and-tested regime change model at hand.

The bottom line that we see from the Greek experience is that if Portugal is faced with a full-on coercive program in retaliation for election results that displeased Merkel, if they want to successfully push back, they have to be willing to risk being pushed out of the eurozone and go back to their own currency.

The Portuguese President Aníbal Cavaco Silva would obviously prefer to have the current conservative Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho continue in office. Despite the name of Passos' party, Social Democratic Party (PSD), the official social-democratic party and affiliate of the Socialist International is the Socialist Party (PS), which heads the majority left coalition that should be taking power now. Passos is trying to get the President to stall on allowing the left majority to create a government, claiming that it wouldn't be "stable." (Maria Lopes, Esquerda garante orçamento, direita quer que Presidente seja mais exigente com PS Público 20.11.2015)

Deputy Prime Minister Paulo Portas is the and head of the Christian Democratic CDS–People's Party (CDS-PP), the junior partner in the current and hopefully outgoing government. As Lopes reports:

[Portas] avisou, em tom de ameaça, que o Governo de esquerda “poderá ser matematicamente viável, poderá ser formalmente constitucional; será sempre politicamente ilegítimo e o CDS extrairá daí as consequências necessárias e suficientes”.

[{Portas} warned in a menacing tone that the government of the left "might be mathematically viable, might be formally constitutional; it will always be politically illegitimate and the CDS will then draw the necessary and sufficient consequences.]
Economist and former Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis is reserved about the approach of the Portuguese left coalition, as he explained to The World Weekly (Yanis Varoufakis’ ‘erratic’ Marxism 11/19/2015; also at Varoufakis' blog)

As the global financial crisis began in 2008, the eurozone was thrown into a sovereign debt crisis which engulfed not just Greece, but also Portugal, Ireland, Spain and Cyprus. The political impact of the crisis was swift. In many of these cases, the national governments moved to the right while once marginal forces became increasingly prominent. Much like in Greece, Portugal’s crisis to the emergence of a new progressive coalition led by the Socialist Party.

“The two countries, Greece and Portugal, are caught up in the same eurozone-wide crisis and both have been subjected to dead-end policies that have been portrayed as success stories (with the Portuguese one bathed in more adulatory light),” Dr. Varoufakis tells The World Weekly. “But there is a difference: last January, in Greece, our government was elected with a clear mandate to oppose these dead-end policies.”

“In Portugal this is not the case,” Dr. Varoufakis explains, “as the Socialist Party seems determined, even before forming government, to avoid challenging the basic logic of a failed policy agenda”. So the former Greek finance minister is not optimistic that the new coalition, which includes Greens and Communists, presents a sufficient challenge to austerity. It is important to note that the Socialist Party was the architect of the austerity measures as the crisis hit.

When asked if the Portuguese case represents any sign of social democracy resurging, Dr. Varoufakis does not mince his words. “Social democracy remains in tatters of its own making,” he says. “It has yet to articulate a valid criticism of its contribution to the eurozone’s terrible architecture as well as to the illogical manner in which Europe responded to the inevitable failures of that architecture.”
See also:

Stefan Schultz, Politische Krise in Portugal: Die Unsicherheit kehrt zurück Spiegel Online 11.11.2015. Schultz talks about the possible but constitutionally dubious option of the President calling for new elections immediately, or allowing the democratically elected left majority to form a government. He called it a "choice between the plague and cholera." But he also describes the "misery" that Merkel's austerity economics has brought to Portugal. And he notes that many Portuguese citizens find it "undemocratic" that the President would try to block the left majority from taking power. That's probably because it is undemocratic.

La actriz y el operario que están detrás del pacto de izquierda en Portugal Público 10.11.2015

Sérgio Aníbal, As chaves do debate difícil entre um governo PS e Bruxelas Público (Portugal) 11/11/2015

Syma Tariq, Portugal senses a chance for change after pro-austerity government is ousted The Guardian 11/11/2015

Catarina Martins in Women who conquered macho world of Portuguese politics prepare for power The Guardian 11/14/2015 notes:

Bloco de Esquerda, Portugal’s equivalent to Greece’s anti-austerity Syriza party, is a crucial element in a leftwing alliance which is set to deliver a socialist government. Its sudden rise is also the story of a remarkable turnaround in fortunes which, in a notoriously macho political culture, has been masterminded by four women: the Bloc’s leader, Catarina Martins, deputies Mortágua and her sister Mariana, and Euro-deputy Marisa Matias.
Lauren McCauley, Portugal Rejoices as Anti-Austerity Left Coalition Forms to Oust Right Wing Common Dreams 11/10/2015

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