It all started last July, when Jose Manuel Baroso resigned as prime minister to become president of the European Commission.
He informed Portugal’s president Jorge Sampaio of his decision and had some words of reassurance for his people: “I am leaving at a time of political stability for our country.” Sampaio then made a controversial decision: instead of calling early elections as requested by the opposition Socialists and by more than half of the Portuguese people, he asked the ruling Social Democrats to chose a new government leader. They picked Lisbon mayor Pedro Santana Lopes. It was a controversial nomination, even within the ranks of his own ruling centre-right Social Democratic party. He was widely criticised for his lack of experience in the world of finance – many doubted he could lead the country out of its economic woes. Critics said he tried to fill the gaps with fancy talk and big speeches. As a former owner of Lisbon’s famous Sporting Club, Santana Lopes used to work as a television sports commentator. The first scandal erupted in October with the resignation of Marcelo Rebello de Sousa, a famous political analyst. Santana Lopes was accused of censorship when it was revealed one of his ministers had allegedly put pressure on de Sousa to resign after he criticised the government on national television. At the same time, the government also came under fire over another affair: the start of the school year had to be delayed for two weeks because the education ministry had failed to inform half the country’s teachers where they would be posted. Popular dissatisfaction with the prime minister reached record levels: more than half wanted Santana Lopes out – neither of his two predecessors Jose Manuel Durao Barroso and Socialist Antonio Guterres ever received such negative public ratings. A January election could provide an opportunity for former European justice commissioner Antonio Vitorino to try to bring the Socialists back into power.