Portugal – a new cycle

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By FRANCISCO LOUÇA*

Analysis of the Portuguese election and the absolute majority won at the polls by the PS

The elections of January 30, 2022 in Portugal gave the Socialist Party an absolute majority of deputies. The left suffered a major defeat, dragged along by the specter of a bipolarization announced in the polls that turned out to be false. The traditional right had yet another defeat, failing to concentrate the votes and opening the way to the new and old extreme right, Chega and the Liberal Initiative.

In the face of recent polls, with the PS and PSD in a technical tie, and in the face of the PSD flirting with Chega (populist and racist extreme right) and the Liberal Initiative (radical liberal right), proclaiming the end of salary national minimum and other barbarities, the people of the left ran to vote for the Socialist Party. People who found out on Sunday, scared, that after all the difference was 13 points and that they became midwives of an absolute majority, a result that the PS only achieved in 2005, still with José Sócrates. The result is marked by last-minute electoral displacements and the polarization of the electorate in the center behind António Costa.

Although we are still living the last days of the pandemic, with 10% of the population under isolation, there has been an increase in electoral participation (58% of votes in the national total, an even higher participation in some cases, as in Lisbon with 62%) . The PS rose 350 votes, the left dropped from around 900 to just under 500. In this dispute, the useful vote was fatal: the Bloco de Esquerda lost half of its electoral base and went from 19 to 5 deputies; the Portuguese Communist Party had its worst result in votes and mandates (lost half of the deputies, some were important references). Ecologists from the Ecologist Party “Os Verdes” (a satellite of the communist coalition) and the CDS-Popular Party (traditional conservative right) disappeared from parliament. The PAN [Pessoas Animais Natureza] (animalist and liberal ecology party) was reduced to one deputy (it had 4) and Livre (federalist greens) kept one mandate.

Parliament has less left and fewer parties. Thus, for the Bloc, the new cycle will be one of mobilization of social struggles that respond to the fracture in the country, in health, in the precariat, in equality, in the climate transition. Fighting for the leading role of a solid parliamentary opposition is as fundamental as ever, but the social confrontation takes on new contours, as in these four years it will have to mobilize more social and militant bases. This will be the way to face the absolute majority that, in Portugal, has always given rise to authoritarian governments with society and more vulnerable to economic potentates.

There are those who are quick to see in these results a retroactive failure of the “Portuguese model” (which, being Portuguese, never wanted to be a model), which consisted of a parliamentary agreement between the left and the PS, but without participation in the government, given the programmatic differences and of design.

For the debate to be rigorous, it should be noted that this parliamentary agreement was signed in 2015 and ended in 2019. In the elections of that year, the Bloc kept the 19 deputies. But, the next day, the Socialist Party refused a contract for another four years, which the Left Block proposed, and thus ended the “contraption”. It is in this context, after two years of opposition, in which the Bloc voted against two State budgets (the PCP only voted against the last one), given that they do not allow adequate responses to the social emergency, in particular in health services, that this confrontation and this electoral defeat.

Thus, these elections take place after two years in which the Socialist Party rejected parliamentary agreements in the name of advances in health, labor law or in response to the crisis, seeking to subdue the left. The intransigence that led to the defeat of the State Budget, and the artificial political crisis it originated, was a successful strategy for bipolarization and the “useful vote” against the right. Fitch Agency hastened to salute the victory of the PS and to proclaim that, thus, this party will not give in to pressure from the left to change the labor law or to expand the public health service.

To the right, the map has changed. It is comfortable for Chega and IL to use this momentum in the opposition, without their policies being tested: the mixture of propaganda and aggressiveness thus has an open field. The PSD's change of orientation and leadership will be influenced by this new map, which makes a rapprochement with these extreme right, the old and the new, more likely. Right goes right, it's Trump Law.

The cycle of an absolute majority for the next four years is a danger, above all in two areas: in public services, considering the antagonism between the Socialist Party and the public school or its commitment to protect the private health system; and in the economy, considering that the PS shields the business of large companies and uses the tax system to transfer resources to capital, as it may do again, for example, to compensate for the increase in the minimum wage.

Inflation, even if still short, already erodes labor income, in many cases also punished by the increase in the cost of housing. For this reason, it will be once again in social life that the supremacy or erosion of this absolute majority will be played out. Reaching the peak of his power, António Costa now has to face all the difficulties he created, which he ignored, or which he magnified. For our part, the left will build its strength on the energy of its mobilization, facing the absolute majority.

Francisco Louça he was coordinator of the Left Bloc (2005-2012). Author, among other books, of The Curse of Midas – The Culture of Late Capitalism (Lark).

 

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