Left-wing bloc seeks to topple Portugal pro-austerity govt

10th November 2015, Comments 0 comments

Portugal's left-wing opposition alliance looks set to topple the country's centre-right minority government Tuesday in a crucial parliamentary vote barely 10 days after it was sworn in.

The vote comes as European fears mount over the prospect of a left-wing coalition taking power in a country still recovering after receiving a 78-billion-euro ($87-billion) bailout in exchange for strict austerity measures, and with investors concerned over the political crisis.

Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho, whose centre-right coalition won the most votes in last month's elections but lost the absolute majority it had enjoyed since 2011, warned the rival bloc's policies would "ruin Portugal" in remarks on the eve of the vote.

Passos Coelho accused the newly-formed bloc -- comprised of the Socialist Party (PS), the Communists and their allies -- of wanting to push through a "short-term and unrealistic programme" which "would be viewed as a threat" to the country's economic recovery.

"We are already paying the price for the uncertainty surrounding the issue of this debate," he said, referring to plunging stock prices and rising borrowing costs.

Communist Party official Jeronimo de Sousa, however, retorted that austerity policies in the country "had destroyed millions of Portuguese lives".

Passos Coelho's fledgling government is hanging on by a thread, with the left-wing bloc, which counts 122 seats out of 230 in parliament, poised to replace it.

If the leftists succeed, the vote would force the government to resign after just 11 days in power, making Passos Coelho's administration the shortest in Portugal's history.

- 'Stable, responsible, consistent' -

The parliamentary session on the government's programme began on Monday and was set to continue into Tuesday, when a motion was to be proposed against the government's programme.

Anxious to reassure creditors, PS leader Antonio Costa has repeatedly said that any Socialist-led government would respect Portugal's international commitments.

"All the conditions have been met to ensure a stable, responsible, consistent and lasting government," Costa said late Sunday.

Speaking on the sidelines of a meeting of eurozone finance ministers in Brussels, Germany's Wolfgang Schaeuble said he believed "Portugal will continue on the path of success that it has seen in recent years".

Investors, however, appeared nervous, with Lisbon's stock exchange falling 4.05 percent on Monday, while yields on the country's benchmark 10-year bond rose 15 basis points to 2.83 percent.

The alliance between the Socialists, the Communists and the Left Bloc is the first of its kind since the birth of a democratic Portugal in 1974, and had seemed unimaginable just weeks ago due to the differences between the various leftist groups.

Experts fear a left-wing alliance could prove unstable, with Commerzbank analyst David Schnautz warning of the possibility of early elections next year and fatigue with years of austerity meaning much-needed reforms could be put on the back-burner.

"The electorate on the left may be disappointed," said political scientist Antonio Costa Pinto, "because a Socialist Party government will be obliged to respect commitments between Portugal and Brussels."

© 2015 AFP

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