Portuguese Left Forces Passos Coelho to Step Down

Portugal’s prime minister loses a confidence vote only days after presenting his government.

Portugal’s left-wing parties made good on their threats on Tuesday when they toppled Pedro Passos Coelho’s second government a week after it took office.

In a confidence vote, all 123 opposition lawmakers rejected the conservative leader’s program, likely forcing President Aníbal Cavaco Silva to give the Socialist Party leader, António Costa, a mandate to form a government instead.

Silva had asked Passos Coelho to form a government after his right-wing alliance won the most votes in October’s election. But it fell short of an overall majority.

Few political observers expected Costa to go into coalition with the Communists and Left Bloc. But the three parties formed just such a pact before the weekend, the first time the Socialists teamed up with the radical left. They vowed to stop Passos Coelho from ruling another four years.

Neither the Communists nor the Left Bloc have been in government before. Costa insists they will respect the European Union’s budget rules which they have previously rejected. The Communists campaigned on taking Portugal out of the euro altogether.

A left-wing coalition would not be without controversy within Costa’s own party either. Some Socialists prefer a centrist alliance with Passos Coelho, fearful that governing with the far left will cost them votes in the next election — especially if it leads to a confrontation with Brussels.

Portugal has so far avoided Greek-style standoffs with the rest of the European Union. It exited its own €79 billion bailout program ahead of schedule and has seen economic growth return and unemployment drop from a 17-percent high as a result of budget cuts and liberal economic reforms enacted during Passos Coelho’s first term.