Passos Coelho Receives Mandate to Form Government

Portugal’s incumbent prime minister receives a mandate to stay in power but doesn’t have a majority.

Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho answers questions from reporters after meeting with President Aníbal Cavaco Silva in Lisbon, October 20
Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho answers questions from reporters after meeting with President Aníbal Cavaco Silva in Lisbon, October 20 (PSD)

The Portuguese Socialists’ attempt to form a left-wing government against Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho appeared to have failed on Thursday when the Southern European country’s president asked the liberal leader to stay in office.

Passos Coelho won an election this month but lost his overall majority in parliament. The opposition Socialists, led by former Lisbon mayor António Costa, announced their intention to ally with the far left — for the first time — to prevent the right returning to power.

However, President Aníbal Cavaco Silva argued in a televised address on Thursday that precedent said the largest party should get the mandate to govern.

In a clear reference to the Euroskeptic policy positions of the far left, he added, “In forty years of democracy, never did Portuguese governments depend on the support of anti-European political forces.”

The Communists, one of the parties Costa would have to rely on in a left-wing coalition, want to take Portugal out of the euro.

Costa earlier insisted that the radicals were prepared to give up their demands for debt restructuring and a loosening of the country’s deficit targets if it was the price they had to pay for joining his administration.

If his party votes against Passos Coelho when he presents his government, Costa could probably claim a mandate to try to form a government instead.

This is not the first time Cavaco Silva is seen as exceeding the prerogatives of his ceremonial office and interfering in coalition politics. In 2013, he called for a government of “national salvation” when the two right-wing parties in Passos Coelho’s camp threatened to fall out.

At the time, the president’s intervention went nowhere. But it took three weeks of posturing before Cavaco Silva accepted the prime minister’s original proposal to resolve the coalition crisis: a cabinet reshuffle that gave the junior conservatives more power at the expense of his own liberal party.