The lowonça lived. This term, translatable by “gadule” or “thing”, indicated the pact made by the Socialist Party with the Communists, the Greens and the anti-capitalists of the Bloco de Esquerda (Left Bloc), to support Prime Minister António Costa. It is a member of the CDS (right) who, doubting the solidity of such an alliance, had spoken, ironically, of contraption. The expression remained, especially since the union of the left with the Portuguese denied the omens and lasted six years.
It ended Wednesday with the vote of the 2022 finance law by Parliament. Neither the CDU (the Unitary Democratic Coalition, bringing together communists and ecologists) nor the Left Bloc supported the head of the socialist government this time around. The almost certain outcome is the calling of early legislative elections, probably in January. António Costa has however ruled out resigning and will lead the ballot box battle as leader of the PS.
Now the President of the Republic, the conservative and very popular Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, has the floor, who has made no secret that he would use his power of dissolution in the event of an institutional blockage. “If the Assembly is not in a position to adopt a fundamental budget for the country, it would be positive to give voice to the Portuguese”, he insisted on Wednesday. He must meet from Saturday the leaders of the main parties before announcing his decision.
Divisions around European funds
António Costa came to power in November 2015 thanks to an unprecedented left union in the country, where socialists and communists have long clashed. But Portugal was bloodless after years of sacrifices made in exchange for the international rescue plan granted in 2011. The communists and the radical left had agreed to support the PS, without entering the government, to turn the page on austerity.
The union of the left began to crack in the wake of the autumn 2019 elections, largely won by the Socialists with 108 seats out of 230. António Costa then avoided negotiating new agreements with the radical left, preferring to seek their support on a case-by-case basis. A year ago, the 2021 budget was narrowly adopted thanks to the abstention of the communist-green coalition and the four elected members of the PAN, the animalist party. On Wednesday, the abstention turned into a vote against.
The main issue of the 2022 budget is the use of European funds allocated in the context of the health crisis. For the radical left, they must serve not only to revive the economic machine, but also to benefit public services and improve purchasing power. For lack of commitments from António Costa in this direction, his allies let him go.
Glimmer of hope for the Conservatives
The maneuver is risky. The Socialists could improve their 2019 result, or even reach an absolute majority, because of the positive image of the Prime Minister. Costa and his government are credited with effective management of the pandemic, and especially with a vaccination campaign cited as a model across the world: 98% of the population over 12 years of age received the full vaccination schedule as of 25 October , while France peaks at 76%.
As for the traditional right, it clings to a ray of hope: the surprise election of the conservative Carlos Moedas as mayor of Lisbon in September. A personal setback for António Costa, who ruled the capital between 2007 and 2015. But the main threat will come from the far right, with the rise of the Chega party (“Enough”). In the legislative elections of 2019, the populist newcomer totaled 1.3% of the vote and had his leader, André Ventura, elected as a deputy. The same which, on the evening of the presidential election in January 2021, was close to 12%.