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Portuguese politics at a glance**

by Torres Thu Jun 1st, 2006 at 04:01:13 AM EST

Since now I feel like I owe ET a few diaries, I shall attempt here to lay out the current political spectrum of Portugal and how it relates to recent history and Portuguese society.

Disclaimer: Please bear in mind I'm little more than a concerned citizen, with no political affiliation, and no special insights or background on politics. So take it as the personal view it is, although based on the facts as I know them.

The current composition of the portuguese parliament comprises, from right to left:

CDS - This is the most right mainstream party. It includes two major sorts of right wing though: Hardcore neo-liberals and democratic Christians. It's a small party with 12 seats. It represents more or less 5-10% of the electorate.

PSD - This is one of the two major parties in Portuguese politics. It has several currents inside, from neo-liberal to social democrats as normally understood  here in ET.

PS - This is the socialist party, currently in absolute majority, and the government. In principle, social democrats, aligned with the social democratic parties in the EP, etc.

BE - This is the Left Block. This party originated from the merging of several small left wing parties and a citizens initiative from the early nineties that looked for a new left that would redefine itself to be more modern.

PCP - This is THE communist party. It's probably the last hardcore communist party in western Europe. The legacy of it's historical leader is still held to the letter, insider reformers were driven out. It holds 12 seats, but since it always runs with the Green party, that elects 2 seats but has no real base, in practice PCP is worth 14 seats.

From the front page - whataboutbob


The main "swing" voters place themselves somewhere between PSD and PS. That's where the main battle is fought in elections.
So, what's the difference between PSD and PS? In practice, if you look at their policies it's hard to tell them apart.

To understand where both come from you have to go back to 1974, during the days of the revolution. The only structured and organized party at the time was the  PCP. The PS existed, but it was little more than it's leadership, most of it in exile.

The PCP was fiercely pro-USSR, Stalinist, and so had trouble capturing the hearts of most of the Portuguese people. The fact that they attempted to control the pace and goals of the revolution from the start, gave PS, as a more reasonably and democratic party, in the figure of its leader, Mário Soares, the role of countering the power hungry communists.

But the PS was a party built from top down, with freemason undertones, and clearly anti-clerical. So a large part of the population didn't saw it as fitting its values.
That's where PSD comes in, as largely a grass roots party, building an alternative that, being still aligned to the left, (the word Marxism only left the party statutes in the late eighties), was tolerant of more traditional Portuguese values, although not defining itself around them.

That was the job of CDS. CDS stands for Democratic Social Center. This is telling of the anti-right wing bias on the post revolution period. You could be to the center... more to the right than that and you'd be a fascist. Anyway, they represent the more conservative democratic segment of the population, generally upper class and  catholic, and also their neo-liberals sons. They don't mix too well, since democratic Christians tend to be much more social conscious.

The Portuguese constitution explicitly prohibits extreme-right organizations. There are some informal fascist groups, but they cant form a party or run for elections. Although they try.

For a long time these were the major players in Portuguese politics, with a few odd episodes, like the emergence and disappearance of the PRD in the 80's, largely built around the figure of General Eanes, the first elected president, after 74.

During the 90's along came the BE. It's the "liberal left" party, the ones that champion gay rights, environmental causes, women's rights, immigrants rights, etc.

Unfortunately (and that's s a personal view) this is party that has trouble crossing to the main stream. On one side there is the values thing that still plays an important role, on the other, and I think that's the main issue, it is viewed largely as a party for privileged left wing urban bourgeois that rebel with a full belly, if you know what I mean, discussing the problems of the working class behind glasses filled with 12 year old Scotch.

Currently the PS has a mandate for 3 more years, after gaining absolute majority. They are posing as dealing with tough issues like Social Security reform, boosting economic growth, raising productivity and tackling bureaucracy and fiscal fraud.

It is telling that PSD is having a tough job making opposition because most of the policies would be implemented in pretty much the same way. They both buy into a lot of the "consensus" we talk about here in ET.

Meanwhile, for the common Portuguese on the streets choice between one or other party is pretty much a matter of which Boys get the Jobs.

Display:
I didn't look...
by Torres on Mon May 29th, 2006 at 11:31:53 AM EST
Your the one, Torres! Nothing in the archives (until this goes in). I gave you a four, even though you weren't putting out your tip jar...because you deserve it, excellent diary.

Bravo, bravo, encore, encore!!

A quick question: there was a recent eletion, yes? And the President was elected but was "conservative, yes? Maybe this is another diary, but I don't understand what the relationship is between who is elected president and what party is in power. The PS is in power, but the president is from the right of center party, yes?

"Once in awhile we get shown the light, in the strangest of places, if we look at it right" - Hunter/Garcia

by whataboutbob on Mon May 29th, 2006 at 01:05:58 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Thank you for the enthusiasm.
In the portuguese regime, parliament and presidential elections are unrelated.
The president is a protocol figure with some powers, but is is the government that rules. The government is formed by the most voted party or coallition, by invitation of the president.

As for the recent election of the president, yes, Cavaco Silva was the only candidate to the right of the spectrum. He was the prime-minister between 84 and 94.

As for being right wing... well, he comes from the more center wing of the PSD. And he sure surprised everyone when, in his inauguration, he chose social cohesion and the fight against exclusion as the the main theme of his speech.

This cohabitation is not completely new, but in reverse, as when he was prime minister the president was the socialist Mário Soares.

These elections were original in the PS votes were divided amongst two candidates: Mário Soares, again, and Manuel Alegre. Soares was the official candidate, so to speak, but Manuel Alegre had more votes. He proved to be a much fresher voice from the left.

The Communist candidate was the charismatic leader of the party. A very down to earth man that generates a lot of empathy among people. Unlike former communist leaders he is a genuine working class hero. Went to the colonial war, worked in a factory and still lives in the same humble house.

So we had 3 candidates from the left and 1 from the right. Some say the bogged process of the PS candidate was a clever manouver from prime minister and socialist leader Socrates in order to erode the influence of the older wing of his party.

by Torres on Mon May 29th, 2006 at 01:33:58 PM EST
[ Parent ]
So "right wing" in this case, is center/center-left...hmm...doesn't sound bad. How will he be as a President?

"Once in awhile we get shown the light, in the strangest of places, if we look at it right" - Hunter/Garcia
by whataboutbob on Mon May 29th, 2006 at 01:38:26 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, unlike his predecessors he is not a "political animal". As a prime minister he was a technocrat, a no-nonsense guy. People so in him the signs of stability and honesty they demanded from rulers, after a series of failed minority governments. He also filled the leadership void left by Sá Caneiro, the charismatic PSD founder, dead in a plane crash.

As a president he has yet to show his mark. He has none of the powers and competences of a prime-minister. The president acts more like a national conscience and a referee. His opponents claimed he lacked the political... agility or savyness, if there is such a word.  That he knows of numbers, but numbers are not the business of the president.

He has a good test now. The parliament passed a series of laws regarding assisted pregnancy, aprooved by all the parties on the left, but a "pro-life" sort of citizens movement gathered 75000 signatures to contest the law, and wish him to veto it, or order a referendum. We'll see how he deals with it.

by Torres on Mon May 29th, 2006 at 02:14:05 PM EST
[ Parent ]
75,000?

What is the limit? In Hungary, which has 10 million citizens just like Portugal, but the limit is 100,000 valid signatures for Parliament to consider a vote, and 200,000 for automatic referendum.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Mon May 29th, 2006 at 03:45:03 PM EST
[ Parent ]
With 75.000 they can ask for popular consultation. I'm not sure the request has to be attended. But i think it doesn't.
by Torres on Mon May 29th, 2006 at 04:11:12 PM EST
[ Parent ]
When are the next elections taking place.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Mon May 29th, 2006 at 12:08:45 PM EST
I believe next will be European Parliament elections. Presidential elections took place early this year, with a mandate for 5 years, Parliament election (from where the government is chosen) took place last year. I couldn't find a precise date, but it won't happen this year.
by Torres on Mon May 29th, 2006 at 12:23:47 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks for the diary Torres.

Coleman: The parliamentary elections were held at the start of last year:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Portuguese_Parliament_election%2C_2005

and the Presidential election was held at the start of the this year:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Portuguese_presidential_election%2C_2006

Money is a sign of Poverty - Culture Saying

by RogueTrooper on Mon May 29th, 2006 at 12:12:54 PM EST
That's where PSD comes in, as largely a grass roots party, building an alternative that, being still aligned to the left, (the word Marxism only left the party statutes in the late eighties), was tolerant of more traditional Portuguese values, although not defining itself around them.

Hm. Didn't the PSD emerge from the pro-democratic-reforms liberal wing of the puppet parliament under Salazár? Wikipedia also says that they moved from the European Liberal, Democrat and Reform Party (and not the European Socialists) to the European People's Party.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Mon May 29th, 2006 at 03:36:10 PM EST
True, it's leadership came from there.
The truth is both PSD and PS refered to Social Democracy as an ideal but, while the Socialists where from the start identified with Socialist International, somehow there was this distinction between Democratic Socialism, and Social Democracy... PS ment the first, PSD ment the latest.
Of course, when Portugal joined the European Parliament, the Socialists took their natural place, and PSD was left to align with the ones to the right, not without some disconfort from it's center wing.
by Torres on Mon May 29th, 2006 at 04:05:14 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks very much for the information. We have not heard much from Portugal on ET, so this is very welcome.
by gradinski chai on Tue May 30th, 2006 at 03:55:56 AM EST
It's probably the last hardcore communist party in western Europe
No. Our (Greek) Communist Party makes your Communist Party seem like a bunch of Social Democratic Hippies ;-)

The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom - William Blake
by talos (mihalis at gmail dot com) on Tue May 30th, 2006 at 07:54:27 AM EST
Well... :) We would have to pitch them against each other... I wouldnt want to be in the middle.

PS. Wow, my first diary and it gets front page honours. I'll trust the editors on ths one. I must add the althouth i tried to present it as dry and factual as possible, some bias may have crept in. I can promiss further diaries will be a lot less objective though. :)

by Torres on Tue May 30th, 2006 at 08:17:49 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I must add the althouth i tried to present it as dry and factual as possible, some bias may have crept in. I can promiss further diaries will be a lot less objective though. :)

Strong opinions and rants are definitely allowed...encouraged even...trust that someone in our audience will (usually) provide objectivity or push back of some sort ;))  So...go for it!!

"Once in awhile we get shown the light, in the strangest of places, if we look at it right" - Hunter/Garcia

by whataboutbob on Tue May 30th, 2006 at 09:19:07 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Largely in agreement with what you wrote but I beg to disagree with the way you "paint" the CDS-PP.

Much more to the right and less to the center. Their populism tends to hide the ultra-fascist ideology of some of their members.

Paulo Portas is a neocon with very shady ties with the current US administration and some of the ultra-conservative lobbies and think-tanks in Washington.

Others, are just plain Taliban-Christians.

Another wing is strongly "nationalist" yearning for the days of Salazar and Colonialism.

What is left are some neo-liberals (like Bagão Félix for ex.) who you might put to the center-right but not representative of the true center.

by Euroliberal on Tue May 30th, 2006 at 08:28:08 AM EST
When Barroso formed his first minority government with CDS-PP outside support, I was under the impression (from limited info from rather far away) that they are hart to far-right. Glad to see my impression wasn't entirely off.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Tue May 30th, 2006 at 09:03:54 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Definitely not to the center, they had to call themselves center in the post revolution period in order to survive.
You may be aware that one of his founders Freitas do Amaral, was a vocal opponent of the Iraqui invasion and now is the Foreign Ministry of the Socialist government as an independent. So i guess it's safe to assume they have been drifting to the right.
Anyway, they were the only party with aspirations to power for the disenfranchised fascists.

Their populist wing borders fascism, true, but you may be aware that the figurehead that made them turn even further right, Manuel Monteiro, left in order to make his own party, so far with little relevance.

What you call taliban christians has to be put into context. Yes there are some members of, say, Opus Dei, but you can find them also in PSD or even PS. Although they are very vocal on "pro-life" issues, and also about the "institutional role of the curch" in portuguese society, i still belive they mostly adhere to democratic principles. Especially under the current leadership, considered weak by the "neo-con" faction.

by Torres on Tue May 30th, 2006 at 09:50:48 AM EST
[ Parent ]
the figurehead that made them turn even further right, Manuel Monteiro, left in order to make his own party, so far with little relevance.

There was a split?

How much did the Monteiro formation receive in the last elections - or was the split after the 2005 elections?

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Tue May 30th, 2006 at 11:21:13 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Monteiro left years ago, leaving the leadership to Portas.
Now he is making a sort of comeback, but his party (or movement, im not sure it is a formal party at this point)  has little to show for and has't run for any elections.
by Torres on Tue May 30th, 2006 at 11:30:43 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The way i worded that was misleading, sorry. Seemed like he had made a split in the party but that was not the case.
by Torres on Tue May 30th, 2006 at 11:32:28 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Thank you for the response.

Now that you clarified a few things our opinions are much closer than I thought. I know how hard it is to express all your ideas in a few paragraphs.

by Euroliberal on Tue May 30th, 2006 at 12:53:47 PM EST
[ Parent ]
When the US has a split government there is slow progress or deadlock quite frequently. With a single party in control we rapidly slide into all sorts of excesses, as the current situation shows.

I can't imagine what it is like to get anything done when a parliament has so many factions. I would be interested in hearing about how progress is made with such a divided electorate.

Policies not Politics
---- Daily Landscape

by rdf (robert.feinman@gmail.com) on Tue May 30th, 2006 at 01:00:39 PM EST
Absolute majorities like the one we have now are basically a "carte blanche".
Even with a split parliament like this, since the biggest party has more deputies then all the opposition together, they do what they want, whithin the confines of the constitution and ideally according to their ellectoral platform. After 4 years, the voters have theor saying, of course.

When you dont have one single party or cohalition in these conditios things become more negotiated.
Minority governments tend to be short lived, though, like happened with Barroso, and his successor, Santana Lopes.

by Torres on Tue May 30th, 2006 at 01:24:06 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Simple: parties hammer out a coalition agreement or agree on terms of an outside support of a minority government.

It is actually not that different from your situation. Imagine coalition parties as different platforms within the Democratic resp. Republican parties.

On the other hand, it is different, IMO inasmuch that those party platforms in the US are more like power groups, not democratically voted on, and thus the US congress doesn't show the true diversity of opinion in the electorate - which also shows in the low voter turnout.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Tue May 30th, 2006 at 01:24:55 PM EST
[ Parent ]
So many parallels with Spain, but mixed in strange ways.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Jun 1st, 2006 at 05:53:33 AM EST


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