Friday, June 3, 2011

A general election devoid of joy

Disillusioned by politicians in general and knowing that hard economic times lie ahead whoever wins, Portuguese voters will go to the polls in Sunday's national election with little enthusiasm.

The new government will have little room to manoeuvre. It will have no choice but to abide by the EU/IMF bailout reform rules.

The most likely election result will be a coalition government formed by the centre-right Social Democrats (PSD) and the third strongest party, the conservative CDS. Opinion polls indicate the Social Democrats led by Pedro Passos Coelho will win more votes than the Socialists but not enough to be able to govern on their own.

The possibility of an inconclusive result fermenting a coalition involving the Socialists under former Prime Minister José Socrates is not being ruled out. It was the collapse of the minority Socialist government amid financial turmoil in March that led to this election.

Whatever the make-up of the new government, its main task will be to implement the tough and wide-ranging reforms demanded by the EU/IMF rescue package. These include increased taxes, deep cuts in spending and greater competitiveness.

In the election campaigning, none of the parties have been able to raise customary hopes of a better future. There is a strong perception that corruption, wealth and power, supported by a deeply flawed justice system, have brought this country to the verge of bankruptcy. 

The Bank of Portugal is on record as saying economic hardship will be particularly severe over the next two years. The young in particular are feeling deeply frustrated and are reportedly leaving the country in droves. Further strikes and street demonstrations can be expected in the weeks ahead.

Whatever the outcome this Sunday, there is unlikely to be much rejoicing in the land. 

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