Portuguese left scoffs as PM unveils minority government

27th October 2015, Comments 0 comments

Portuguese centre-right leader Pedro Passos Coelho on Tuesday unveiled a minority government following inconclusive elections, but the opposition Socialist Party (PS) threatened to bring it down within days.

"It's a government that has no future and knows it," PS leader Antonio Costa immediately posted on Facebook.

The new cabinet, which includes the key heavyweights from Passos Coelho's outgoing government, will take office on Friday.

Left-wing parties, which between them won more than half of the seats in parliament in the October 4 polls, have vowed to bring down the new government as soon as it presents its programme, which it must do within 10 days.

President Anibal Cavaco Silva had charged Passos Coelho with forming the government last Thursday even though the PS vowed not to endorse it.

Passos Coelho, 51, who took office in 2011, won the elections with 38.6 percent of the vote, a victory that came despite four difficult years of austerity and many predictions of defeat.

However, his centre-right bloc fell short of a parliamentary majority, winning 107 of 230 seats.

Costa, 54, whose PS scored 32.3 percent and won 86 seats, claimed his right to the premiership, saying he could muster a government coalition with smaller left-wing parties, to make up a majority of 122 MPs.

Such a coalition would be unprecedented in the last 40 years of Portuguese democracy, bringing together the Socialists with the Left Bloc -- which is allied to Greece's ruling anti-austerity Syriza party -- and the Communist and Green parties.

Portugal has already seen several minority governments, both left and right, but only one completed a full five-year term -- led by Socialist Antonio Guterres from 1995 to 1999.

- 'Europe can rest easy' -

Half of the 16 ministers in the lineup unveiled Tuesday were in Passos Coelho's outgoing cabinet, including his deputy Paulo Portas, finance minister Maria Luis Albuquerque and foreign minister Rui Machete.

The outgoing economy minister, Antonio Pires de Lima, has been replaced by Portas's former deputy, Luis Miguel Morais Leitao.

The left has vowed to present a motion rejecting any programme that keeps the essence of Portugal's punishing austerity regime.

If the new government falls, the conservative Cavaco Silvo could ask Costa to form a new government -- though last Thursday he was highly critical of the idea of a government propped up by radical left factions.

Or he could ask Passos Coelho to stay on as a caretaker prime minister.

Portugal's constitution does not allow another election within six months, so the impasse could stretch well into next year.

Neighbouring Spain and Germany have both voiced deep concern about the prospect of a left-wing coalition taking power in Portugal, which is recovering only slowly after emerging from a 78 billion euro ($88 billion) international bailout last year.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy expressed concern over such a possibility, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel said such a coalition would be a "very negative" development.

But two weeks ago, Costa told AFP that a left-wing government would respect trade commitments and avoid any new crises in the eurozone.

"Europe can rest easy, the Socialist Party is not Syriza," Costa said, adding that the Communist Party and Left Bloc "have clearly stated that leaving the euro and renegotiating the debt were not on the negotiating table."

Last week EU officials warned Lisbon it could face consequences for failing to present its draft budget for 2016 on time.

Portugal is the first country to miss the October 15 deadline for sending budgets to the European Commission since a set of new rules for harmonising cross-border economic governance was put in place in 2013.

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© 2015 AFP

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