Friday, April 5, 2024


Parliament building in Lisbon

Prime Minister Luis Montenegro of Portugal’s new centre-right government said at his swearing-in ceremony on Tuesday this week that he expects to serve for the entire four-and-a-half-year term despite his party’s very narrow election victory and the country’s instability.

With just 80 seats in the 360-seat parliament, the minority government will only be able to pass legislation with support from the 78-seat centre-left Socialist Party. The biggest obstacle will be stiff opposition from the 50-seat far-right Chega (Enough) party. 

During the election campaign, Montenegro promised to lower taxes, increase salaries and pensions, and improve public services. As admirable as all that sounded, will he be able to garner sufficient support to deliver, even from the moderates in the new National Assembly?

Things started on a happy note with messages of congratulations from the European Union, the United States, and others. Portugal’s President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa promised a spirit of solidarity and cooperation. He said the new government required “careful dialogue” to increase its support base.  He recommended that the prime minister exercise patience rather than raising illusionary ambitions or expectations for the nation’s citizens.

The prime minister seemed to agree when he warned that Portugal had not become “rich” just because it had the budget surplus reported last year. To do so would be “dangerous, wrong and even irresponsible.”

He promised to reveal an emergency health programme by 2 June. He also announced that the government would seek dialogue with the parliamentarians of all parties to find a way to fight corruption.

The first cabinet meeting was held on Wednesday.  The following day the prime minister had a phone conversation with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zekensky during which he pledged Portugal’s political, economic, humanitarian and military backing for Ukraine “for as long as it is needed.” Foreign Minister Paulo Rangel said there would be no repeat of the previous government’s “hesitation” in supporting Ukraine joining the EU.  The foreign minister also announced that the prime minister’s first foreign trip would be to Madrid.

A massive job certainly lies ahead for the prime minister who has never served in a government before. Few of his cabinet have either. Whether they will now be allowed to serve for a full term seems doubtful.

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