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Dates set for left-right clash over new Portuguese government

The Portuguese parliament set dates Wednesday for a key debate next month on the programme of the new centre-right minority government which the left has vowed to bring down.

Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho, re-elected in inconclusive elections on October 4, will unveil the blueprint on November 9 to launch the two days of debate agreed during a meeting of parliamentary group leaders.

The Socialist Party (PS) and parties to its left, which between them won 122 of the 230 seats in parliament, have vowed to pass a motion against the programme, a move that would bring down the government automatically.

The Portuguese president charged Passos Coelho with forming a government, which will take office on Friday, even though his centre-right bloc won only 107 seats.

PS leader Antonio Costa has claimed his right to the premiership, saying he could muster a coalition with the Left Bloc — which is allied to Greece’s ruling anti-austerity Syriza party — and the Communist and Green parties.

Such a coalition would be unprecedented in the last 40 years of Portuguese democracy and would require the PS to make key concessions on social issues.

However PS parliamentary group leader Carlos Cesar declined to reveal details, saying only: “It will be a transparent accord that will respect the country’s commitments.”

He vowed: “We will not leave the country without a government. We can propose an alternative way towards a solid government.”

Elements of the far left notably oppose the EU budget treaty.

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.

Luis Montenegro, who heads the parliamentary group of Passos Coelho’s Social Democratic Party, said: “The country cannot remain in this uncertainty. The more time goes by the more our international partners have reason to worry.”

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.”