Winning an election after introducing the toughest austerity measures in decades turned out to be just the first challenge facing Portuguese prime minister Pedro Passos Coelho.
No he needs to figure out how to run the country without a majority in parliament. A minority administration has not survived a full term in Portugal since the 1974 overthrow of the fascist regime.
Political expert Pedro Magalhaes says the prime minister does have a base upon which to build:
“He is seen as calm and reserved and generally speaking a truthful person, although of course the opposition points to many contradictions between some promises he made before the 2011 election and what he ended up doing.”
Coelho’s Socialist rival Antonio Costa campaigned promising to lighten austerity, but that wasn’t enough to set him apart in people’s minds from his party’s relatively recent record.
According to Magalhaes: “He is not seen as someone who is a clear cut [from] the previous Socialist government. The previous Socialist government ended with a bailout. That is something that left people very angry.”
Since the country teetered on the brink of bankruptcy in 2011, and the past several years of recession, Portugal’s economy has slightly improved, with 1.6% growth this year.
Coelho’s centre-right coalition secured 600,000 fewer votes than in 2011, with more than 43% of voters abstaining — a record for a parliamentary election. Many Portuguese appear resigned to austerity for the foreseeable future.
Luis, a painter, said: “They promise the world but we see nothing. This is the way life goes. It’s always work, work to earn less every time.”
Overall, unemployment has fallen from 18% to 12.4%, but for the young, even with an education, it is still hovering around 30%.
Faced with a majority of the left in parliament, the new government risks a period of deadlock. Coelho must convince the opposition that sacrifices and tough choices need to continue.