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Portugal president approves reshuffled government

Published on 10/07/2013

Portuguese President Anibal Cavaco Silva approved a reshuffled ruling coalition Wednesday, ending a 10-day crisis over hated austerity policies that nearly toppled the government.

“The current government has all the authority to exercise its functions,” the president said in a televised address to the nation, rejecting opposition calls for snap elections.

The decision means the survival, for now, of Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho’s centre-right government, after a political emergency that shook world markets fearing a new wave of instability in the eurozone’s debt-laden periphery.

At the heart of the crisis is a dispute over the painful spending cuts and tax increases enacted as a condition of Portugal’s 78-billion-euro ($100-billion) international bailout, extended in May 2011.

The austerity cuts, widely blamed for exacerbating Portugal’s three-year recession, have sparked growing street protests.

Portugal forecasts a 2.3-percent economic contraction this year and has a record unemployment rate of more than 18 percent.

The outlook for the austerity squeeze is now unclear under the new-look alliance between Passos Coelho’s Socialist Democratic Party and its junior partner, the conservative CDS-PP.

In the midst of such uncertainty, officials of Portugal’s troika of creditors — the European Commission, European Central Bank and IMF — are due to visit the country Monday to assess its accounts.

The crisis erupted July 1 with the shock resignation of then finance minister Vitor Gaspar, feeling the pressure of mounting popular opposition.

It escalated the next day when Paulo Portas, who as leader of the CDS-PP coalition partner is pivotal to the government’s survival, said he was resigning as foreign minister.

Portas was angered by the choice of then treasury secretary Maria Luis Albuquerque as the new finance minister, fearing she would pursue the austerity policies that he wants to relax.

But after long negotiations, Passos Coelho patched up a deal Saturday to keep intact a coalition that has ruled since June 2011.

The agreement was struck at the price of promoting Portas to deputy prime minister in charge of coordinating economic reforms.

The Portuguese president had the power to dissolve parliament and call new elections, which may have risked months of political paralysis.

Instead, he decided to rebuff calls for new elections from the main opposition Socialist Party and extreme left parties.

Albuquerque, whose appointment as finance minister has been welcomed by top European officials, said this week she can work with the new deputy prime minister.

Some financial analysts foresee a new bailout for Portugal.

The president himself warned last week that external events or domestic instability could block Portugal’s return to borrowing from the financial markets when its bailout programme expires next year.