Portugal is hovering in uncertainty after left-wing MPs brought about the government’s collapse on Tuesday. It had stood for 11 days. Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho thus led the briefest coalition in the republic’s history. Conservative President Anibal Cavaco Silva is in no hurry to pass the baton on to an eventual Socialist-led government.
Passos Coelho’s centre-right won the most votes in the Oct. 4th election. By political convention, he was sworn back into office last week. The Socialists placed second, the three left-wing parties together amassing a majority.
The president said: “Until the moment of the appointment of the Prime Minister, no stable, coherent or credible alternative solution for a government was presented by the other political forces.”
So, as promised, on Tuesday, the Socialists, Communists, Greens and Left Block broke from all historic precedent voting together to defeat Passos Coelho and his austerity programme. Socialist Party leader António Costa again stepped up offering an alternative.
Costa said: “For the first time, reinforcing our democracy and pluralism, a government may be formed by parliamentary agreement.”
But there is no foregone conclusion here. The president has the power to ask Passos Coelho to stay on as caretaker till elections may be held again. That cannot be any earlier than June, because first there are the presidential elections in January. Furthermore, Passos Coelho would have to accept. If he declines, the president may take the initiative to assemble a cabinet of independents. If he got over his reluctance, he could ask António Costa to form a government.
Analyst António Costa Pinto warned of the risk that would carry: “If the president appoints a minority government led by the Socialist Party with the support of the other leftist parties, the centre-right parties will certainly have a very radical political attitude towards the Socialist Party.”
By that analysis, a highly polarised political climate would prevail in Portugal over the months to come. The outcry raised when the shortlived Coelho government tumbled on Tuesday may have been a sample of the shape of things to come.