Friday, November 27, 2015

Eyes to the left to see what comes next

Lest there was any doubt, it has just been confirmed that we live in a politically weird world. Never mind the shenanigans going on elsewhere in Europe and farther afield, Portugal now has a new government - another new government.
Having muddled through almost two rudderless months since the general election, Portugal finds itself still faced with huge economic problems and now heading towards a highly uncertain 2016 with one of the most unlikely of government setups imaginable.
Even by the standard of Portugal's turbulent young democracy, recent weeks have been dizzying. Just to recap for those still a bit dazed.
October 4: general election turns out to be inconclusive. October 22: President Aníbal Cavaco Silva asks the centre-right’s Pedro Passos Coelho to return as prime minister because his party won the most votes, though not a majority. November 10: new government ousted after 11 days by combined leftist parties’ vote of no-confidence.
November 24: After much discussion, the president reluctantly asks the centre-left Socialist leader António Costa to form a government. November 26: the new minority government that will rely on support from the far left is sworn in.
The almost stranger than fiction notion that moderate socialists, radical leftists and diehard communists could become partners in parliament has actually come to pass, but how long it will last is anyone’s guess. There has been no formal marriage. For now at least they’re just good friends, united in their dislike of austerity.
The president has requested Costa to provide “a stable, lasting and credible government solution,” but Passos Coelho has condemned Costa’s proposed policies as “reckless” and the Socialists post-election pact with the far left as “illegitimate.”
Costa’s forthcoming balancing act means continuing to placate erstwhile hard-left rivals while substantially reducing the burden of austerity to the benefit of the people, and at the same time ensuring stability by sticking to Portugal’s international fiscal commitments and keeping investors happy.
Costa, 54, a combative extrovert, is no stranger to trying to pull off the seemingly impossible. The thrice-elected mayor of Lisbon is said to enjoy relaxing with 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzles, but he regards himself as a man of action.
I always deliver more than I promise,” is one of his best-known boasts, though it is not strictly true.
More than 20 years ago while running for mayor in the municipality of Loures north of Lisbon he famously drew attention to commuter problems by staging a race between a red Ferrari and a donkey in busy streets. The donkey won, but Costa lost the election.
He repeated a similar stunt 10 years later in central Lisbon, pitting a Porche against a taxi, the Metro and a bicycle. Costa rode the Metro and it was a toss up whether he or the cyclist won – but Costa certainly made his point about public transport.
We can but remain hopeful that he manages to pull off his next, much more complicated performance. If anything goes badly wrong, the country could face another general election in as little as six months from now.  

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