Political crisis: Government faces no-confidence vote amid growing opposition

The Socialist Party said it will go ahead with a motion of no confidence against the centre-right PSD/CDS-PP coalition government, as the Constitutional Court seems inclined to rule illegal several of the measures included in the 2013 state budget, placing the cabinet under increasing pressure.

Politics What's New — 22 March 2013 by Marina Watson Peláez
Political crisis: Government faces no-confidence vote amid growing opposition

Socialist Party leader António José Seguro (C), talks to the press before the party's political commission meeting to discuss Portugal's present situation (Photograph: Manuel de Almeida/Lusa)

Portugal’s main opposition Socialist Party (PS) said on Thursday it would table a motion of no confidence against the centre-right PSD/CDS-PP coalition government after it had failed to reach its targets, despite the harsh measures implemented to cut the budget deficit. The decision was announced by former minister and spokesman for the PS political coordination body Vera Jardim, following a two-hour long meeting.

This is a rupture with the government, and the economic and social tragedy afflicting the country, the error of the policies and the insistence on executing those policies,” said Jardim, before adding that there had been no decision on just when the party would submit the motion to parliament.

This will be the fourth motion against the current coalition government but the first time the largest opposition Socialist Party has acted after having abstained on the motions submitted by the fringe Communist and Left Bloc parties.

Last week, officials from the so-called troika of international lenders – European Commission, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund – predicted that Portugal’s gross domestic product would slump by 2.3% this year, much worse than the 1% drop they had predicted in their previous quarterly review of the country’s bailout programme. This announcement, made by Minister of Finance Vítor Gaspar, “sealed the government’s failure”, Socialist Party Secretary General José Seguro said, before adding that the country was living through a “social tragedy” of “pre-rupture.”

Although the no-confidence vote stands no chance of passing in parliament, where the coalition led by Prime Minister Passos Coelho has a comfortable majority, it is a sign of diminishing political consensus as Portugal struggles to climb out of its economic recession amid a tide of harsh austerity.

The deepening opposition to this austerity drive became clear back in January, when President Aníbal Cavaco Silva sent the 2013 state budget to the Constitutional Court for review and the country has been awaiting the high court’s ruling, with some ministers saying Portugal could become “ungovernable” if the decision was negative, according to daily newspaper i.

On Friday, newspaper Sol revealed that inside sources claim the Constitutional Court is close to ruling some of the measures included in the state budget illegal. These initially concerned the cuts to pensions but also the so-called extraordinary solidarity contribution, a progressive levy on pensions over €1,300.

According to the weekly, the scenario has now changed and even more measures could be deemed unconstitutional, which could create a gap in the state budget of over €420m regarding pensions alone. The paper also says that added to the cuts to holiday pay affecting public sector workers and pensioners, the full impact would come close to €1bn.

The Constitutional Court’s ruling is expected sometime during the next fortnight, but according to Sol, in the absence of a “Plan B” the government is facing a serious threat as there is increasing unease within the coalition parties to lend support to Prime Minister Passos Coelho.

With Miguel Moore and Lusa News


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Marina Watson Peláez

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