Portugal’s Socialists Say Left-Wing Pact Possible

Party leader António Costa suggests teaming up with the far left to keep the right-wing parties from power.

Portuguese Socialist Party leader António Costa answers questions from reporters, July 6
Portuguese Socialist Party leader António Costa answers questions from reporters, July 6 (PS)

Despite losing an election to the incumbent right-wing government, Portugal’s Socialists are determined to take over.

Opposition leader António Costa told the Financial Times he would rather group with the far left, including Portugal’s Communists, than keep Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho in power.

Short of a majority

The liberal premier won 39 percent support and a plurality of the seats in parliament this month but fell short of an overall majority.

Costa’s Socialists took 32 percent support and 85 seats in the country’s 230-seat legislature. Radical parties on the left hold the balance of power.

Not bluffing

Political analysts had expected that the Socialists would tolerate a minority right-wing government. The ideological gap between them and the far left is wide. The Communists, for one, want to leave the euro.

Yet Costa told the Financial Times he’s not bluffing to get a better deal out of Passos Coelho. A Socialist-led administration, he insisted, would respect Portugal’s obligations as part of the eurozone, including complying with its debt and deficit rules.

The far-left parties campaigned on restructuring Portugal’s debt and relaxing the incumbent government’s fiscal targets. But according to Costa, they would be willing to give up those demands in order to force Passos Coelho out.

“This has created new possibilities for alternative government solutions,” he said.

Bailout

In the election, Passos Coelho urged voters to stay the course. Since exiting a €79 billion bailout program from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund, Portugal has seen economic growth return and unemployment drop from a 17-percent high.

Costa claimed that the ruling parties had taken advantage of the crisis to roll back the welfare state but his argument did not appear to resonate strongly. His party only won around 200,000 more votes than it did in 2011 — when it was punished for the debt crisis that hit Portugal the previous year.

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