UPDATE: The local elections held in Portugal on Sunday resulted in the centre-left Socialists, the main opposition party, gaining 36.3 per cent of the vote and control of 106 of Portugal’s 308 town halls, which was their biggest local election victory to date. The governing PSD won 26.5 per cent of the vote and 99 town halls. The conservative Popular party (CDS-PP), the junior coalition party, polled 5.5 per cent of the vote and won five town halls. Portugal’s communist party (PCP) emerged as the third strongest force in local government with 11 per cent of the vote and control of 30 town halls. FT Opposition to the government ‘s austerity policies will move back onto the streets on a day of protests called by the main trade union confederation CGTP on 19 October.
Portugal is to go to the polls Sunday in what will represent a test for the brutal policies of austerity of the ruling right-wing coalition led by prime minister Passos Coelho.
The international media is downplaying the significance of this local poll, which comes two weeks before the government hands in a budget proposal for 2014 that will include another round of swinging spending cuts.
As Antonio Costa Pinto, president of the Portuguese Political Science Association, told Bloomberg earlier this week:
“The punishment effect will be small because municipal elections are very local,” he said. “On the day after the elections, the government will announce what we already know: cuts in pensions and continued wage reduction in the public sector.”
Bloomberg further reported that:
The opposition Socialist lead over the ruling Social Democrats narrowed in a poll on parliamentary voting intentions published by weekly newspaper Expresso on Sept. 13. The survey showed 26.5 percent backing for the Social Democrats, up about 2 percentage points from August, and 38 percent support for the Socialists, an increase of 0.6 percentage point.
There was also a report by Reuters about disaffection with these main two political blocs and a rise in independent candidates, although it didn’t give any examples.
What hasn’t been reported is that a coalition of communists and greens, the Coligação Democrática Unitária, is at 12-13%, a level it has more or less maintained since April-May this year amid ever tightening austerity screws in the country. That’s up from 8% in the June 2011 election.
Like Germany, where the SPD, Greens and Die Linke garnered more votes last Sunday than Merkel’s christian democrats, there’s a Left majority in the country, if today’s opinion polls reflect real voting intensions. Together with the Left Bloc, which is hovering at around 6.5-8% (an improvement on the 5% vote obtained in June 2011) and the Socialists, the Left has over 50% of the vote. (See recent polls summarised here)
As with their sister party in Germany, where another Grand Coalition (after 2005-2009) is on the cards, Portugal’s Socialists continue to shun parties to their left, even though much of their electoral base would surely welcome such a move if it strengthened the prospects of alternatives to punishing spending cuts and massive attacks on their living standards.
The Socialists formed an informal Grand Coalition, a pact with Passos Coelho’s right-wing parties ahead of national elections in June 2011 to show political ‘consensus’ around the hated Troika Memorandum with its wish list of neo-liberal misery in return for international loans. In that election Passos Coelho and his confusingly named Social Democratic Party – they are solidly right wing – booted out the Socialists.
Now, under the leadership of Antonio Jose Seguro, they are opposing a deepening cuts programme, which they claim has gone much further than anything they signed up to.
If they have had any kind of genuine change of heart, and really wanted to reflect the popular desire for a genuine alternative, they would start working together with the communists and the Left Bloc.
For now, though, that looks highly unlikely.