Category Archives: Portugal

Presidential Profile – Mário Soares, Portuguese President and Prime Minister (1924-2017)

Mário Soares, who has died aged 92, was widely regarded as the father of Portugal’s modern democracy. Following his death on 7 January the government decreed three days of national mourning. Soares was the first civilian to head an elected government in more than half a century and served as the president of Portugal between 1986 and 1996.

The former Socialist party leader played a crucial role in stabilizing the country after the 1974 Carnation revolution that overthrew four decades of dictatorship. He was arrested a dozen times, tortured and was living in forced exile, amongst others, in France and on the island colony of Sao Tome off the West African coast. In 1973 he founded the Socialist party (PS), which he led until 1985.

After the 1974 coup, Soares became minister in a provisional government led by moderate factions of the Portuguese military. As minister for overseas negotiations he was responsible for initiating the policy under which Portugal divested itself of its colonies. His role in granting rapid independence to Portugal’s colonies made him widely respected in Africa, but earned the lasting enmity of many of the hundreds-of-thousands of Portuguese settlers who fled from Angola and the other territories.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Soares between two key actors in Angola’s decolonization process, José Eduardo dos Santos of the MPLA and Jonas Savimbi, leader of UNITA.

His greatest achievement was, arguably, to prevent the communists from overtaking the country in the turbulent years following the Carnation revolution. In November 1975 Portuguese communists organised a coup against the governing bodies but failed. Supported by Soares, pro-democracy and moderate General António Ramalho Eanes then carried out a counter coup, and thereby re-established the democratic process. The close relationship between both men resurfaced during the 1976 elections. Soares supported Eanes in his bid for presidency and the latter asked Soares to head a minority government. Soares resigned in December 1977 following the government’s defeat of a confidence motion. He was asked to form a new government, this time with the rightwing Democratic Social Centre (CDS). Yet, the gap in outlook between the two parties soon made the arrangement unworkable and in July 1978 the CDS withdrew its support. Soares did not resign immediately and was sacked by President Eanes, a move that caused ill-feeling between the two men for years afterwards.

Soares resignation in 1978 marked the beginning of a less successful period in his political career. President Eanes appointed three technocratic cabinets in a row in the period 1978-1979 (the cabinets Nobre da Costa, Mota Pinto and Pintasilgo). Furthermore, the centre-right wing parties succeeded in forming the Democratic Alliance (AD)[1], which won the 1979 and 1980 election. In 1981, Soares also had to endure intense criticism from leftwingers in his party for backing the AD’s proposal to revise the revolutionary constitution, which would limit the power of the president. With the support of the PS, which gave the AD the required two-thirds majorities, constitutional amendments were passed in 1982.

The PS returned to government in 1983 as part of a “Central Bloc” coalition with the Social Democrat Party (PSD). Barely two years later, Soares was again forced to resign after the new PSD leader Aníbal Cavaco Silva announced his party’s withdrawal from the government. The early 1985 elections resulted in a staggering loss for the PS and, to Soares’ great frustration, it was the PSD leader who took Portugal into the EU the following year.

 

Soares signs the EU membership treaty in 1985.

After his removal from government, Soares decided to run for the presidency in 1986. He won and remained president until 1996. Throughout the whole period in office, President Soares faced political opponent and PM Cavaco Silva whose cabinet enjoyed the support of a parliamentary majority. Tensions increased between both leaders: while the President used the veto power seven times during his first term in office (1986-1991) he vetoed thirty laws during his second term (1991-1996).

Soares served as a member of the European parliament from 1999 until 2004, and made an unsuccessful bid for a further term as president of Portugal in 2006.

His wife, actor, teacher and political activist Maria de Jesus Simões Barroso, whom he married in prison in 1949, died in 2015. He is survived by their daughter, Isabel, and son João who served as mayor of Lisbon and minister of culture.

Notes

[1] The Democratic Alliance (AD) was composed of the Social Democratic Party (PSD), the Democratic and Social Centre (CDS), the People’s Monarchist Party (PPM), including also a group of dissidents of the right wing of the Socialist Party (PS) who were disappointed by the previous Soares government.

Happy New Year? Christmas and New Year’s addresses by European presidents for 2017

This post marks the third time that I have written about selected presidential Christmas and New Year’s addresses by European presidents (see 2015 and 2016 here), so that it is now becoming a tradition of its own. This year’s speeches differed only little in focus from last year, as the refugee crisis and security concerns continue to determine the public debate, yet speeches took a more political tone in a number of countries. At the same time, this year also saw some ‘firsts’ – newly-elected Estonian president, Kersti Kaljulaid, gave her first New Year’s address and Austria (for the first time in decades) had no New Year’s address at all.

Slovak president Andrej Kiska reading out his New Year´s Day Address | © prezident.sk

Presidential Christmas and New Year’s Addresses tend to be a mixture of reflections on the political and societal events of the last year and general good wishes for the festive period or the new year. While the previous year had already seen an increase in political content, this year even more presidents referred to concrete events and policies – first and foremost the terrorist attack in Berlin on 19 December 2016. German president Gauck’s Christmas message was clearly dominated by the attack, yet stressed the need for compassion, highlighted efforts by volunteers both after the Berlin attacks and in helping refugees, and called for unity over sweeping judgments. Slovak president Andrej Kiska dismissed xenophobic sentiments in his New Year’s address even more directly, acknowledging a deviation from usual end-of-year reflection and highlighting his disagreements with the government over the issue. The Slovak government has not only strongly opposed taking in any refugees, but also includes the far-right Slovak National Party (SNS) and recently passed a more restrictive church law specifically targeting Muslims (which was promptly vetoed by Kiska). Quite in contrast to these conciliatory words, Czech president Zeman used the opportunity claim a ‘clear link between the migrant wave and terrorist attacks’. In his 20-minute address – far longer than any other presidential holiday speech – from the presidential holiday residence at Lany, he also attacked the governing coalition, spoke about banning internet pornography and expressed his admiration for Donald Trump and his ‘aggressive style’.

The Christmas speech of Polish president Andrzej Duda also took an unusually political turn as it started off with much praise for government reforms. Although the Polish government, too, refused to accept refugees under the EU compromises, references to EU crises remained relatively vague. Remarkable, however, was Duda’s call to ‘respect the rules of democracy’ which was clearly aimed at the parliamentary and extra-parliamentary opposition which criticised what they in turn perceived as the unconstitutional behaviour of the governing party (see here). The address by Duda’s Croatian counterpart, Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic, was also in remarkable as she devoted the entirety of her speech to condemning recent increases in intolerance and the simultaneous glorification of past fascist and communist regimes which she then linked to the fact that “busloads of young people are leaving the country each day” and called the government and all parties to action. Italy’s president Sergio Mattarella likewise urged parties to take action  to avoid the ‘ungovernability’ of the country, yet mostly focussed on listing the concerns of citizens and various tragic deaths rather than providing a very positive message.

Bulgarian president Rosen Plevneliev used his last New Year’s address as president to highlight more positive achievements, such as the ten year anniversary of EU accession (also mentioned by Romanian president Iohannis in his very brief seasons’ greetings), a rise in GDP and successful completion of the presidency of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe. While stressing the need for further reform, President of Cyprus Nicos Anastasiades also provided a more positive message focused on the progress in the negotiations about a reunification of the island, also thanking people for their sacrifices in implementing the financial bail-out completed in 2016.

Hungarian President Ader with sign language interpreter (left); Latvian president Vejonis with his wife (right)

On a different note, Hungarians and Latvians might have been surprised to see additional faces in the recordings of presidential messages: Hungarian president Janos Ader’s speech was simultaneously interpreted into sign language by deaf model and equality activist Fanni Weisz standing in the background, whereas Latvian president Raimonds Vejonis even shared parts of the address with his wife. For those interested in ‘pomp and circumstance’, the address by Maltese president Marie-Louise Coleiro is highly recommended as the recording features a praeludium and a postludium by a military band in gala uniform inside the presidential palace (Youtube video here).

Last, for the first time in decades Austria lacked a New Year’s address by the president. Although Alexander Van der Bellen was finally elected president in early December, he will only be inaugurated on 26 January 2016. His successor, Heinz Fischer, finished his term already on 8 July 2016 and the triumvirate of parliamentary speakers (which incidentally include Van der Bellen’s unsuccessful challenger, Norbert Hofer), who are currently serving collectively as acting president, did not provide any New Year’s greetings.

_______________________________________________________________________
A full list of speeches is available for download here.

Rui Graça Feijó – Semi-Presidentialism in Portugal: Towards Co-Government?

This is a guest post by Rui Graça Feijó of CES/UCoimbra and IHC/UNLisboa

As 2016 was approaching its end, a popular political commentator-cum-humorist claimed that the major novelty of the year was the apparition on the scene of “Costelo”, suggesting that PM António COSTa had fused with PR MarcELO Rebelo de Sousa (MRS) in one single political entity. With all the exaggeration that all caricature implies, this joke struck a sensitive chord. In this post I wish to explore one side of this joke: what is driving the new PR to make it plausible?

In an earlier post, I suggested that the 2016 presidential elections had heralded a new era in Portuguese semi-presidentialism, reinforcing both the role of Parliament and the Presidency (see my post of 25 July 2016). The reasons for the resurgence of the presidency are manifold. First of all, the new PR is a reputed constitutionalist who wrote many pieces on the subject of presidential power, and he can be quoted expressing a view on presidential competences that goes beyond what others have expressed. Even if he is not known for the firmness of his positions which tend to evolve (and more than thirty years have elapsed since he first commented on the 1982 constitutional revision), there is a coherent background to the claim that presidential powers derived from a direct election without party mediation (as is his case) transcend a literal reading of the constitutional word and require the contemplation of a “material constitution” in Sartori’s sense that encompasses established practices, precedents, and even public expectations that do not run contrary to the formal law. Secondly, MRS was also a popular pundit who entered everybody’s home every Sunday evening expressing reputedly common sense ideas on political events, and was acutely aware that his predecessor, Cavaco Silva, had sank the popularity of the presidency to its record lowest levels – he left office with an overall negative rating of -13 points according to the regular barometer published by the weekly Expresso, the only president to have ever recorded negative ratings (some have been credited with +70 or more). The plummeting of popularity impaired his capacity to intervene on the political arena, as his failure to stop the novel convergence of the parliamentary left clearly demonstrated. For this reason, MRS, an expert on media communication, set himself the goal to reverse such course and dispute with former president Mario Soares (and to a lesser extent, Jorge Sampaio) the championship of popularity – and therefore increase his room for manoeuvre. It must be stated that he has been very successful in such endeavour, Eurosondagem barometer crediting him with circa +70 positive against -13 negative ratings. He has championed what he labels “a presidency of affections”, stepping down from a pedestal erected by Cavaco to mingle with the people. Few persons in the country do not possess a “selfie” with the president smiling in their midst. And for everybody, the president is “o Marcelo” – addressed by his first name preceded by the definite article that instils even more familiarity. The question to be raised is: what does the PR use his power for?

For one, he uses his power in line with other presidents have done. The strongest traditional competence is le pouvoir d’empêcher: to use his veto powers. Marcelo has done it on a few occasions (e.g., on bank secrecy, changes in the status of metropolitan transport systems, and on surrogate motherhood – one bill he later signed after being amended in parliament in line with some of his suggestions) – none being critical for the survival of the parliamentary convergence sustaining the PM, almost all of them destined to send a signal to his conservative constituency.

If his “reaction powers” have not exceeded what might be expected, the use of “action powers” has proved to be somewhat more controversial. One of Marcelo’s idiosyncratic features his is alleged hyper-activism which brings him to issue comments and public statements on everything that goes under his nose – take for instance a note on the presidency’s official site expressing condolences on the passing of the English pop star George Michael, with no known special relation with Portugal. Other instances are politically more relevant, although not always coherent. For instance, Marcelo criticized the new salaries of the public commercial bank’s administrators (in tune with popular sentiments) but promulgated the law that allows them (arguing with the need to secure a “professional solution”).

In a political and institutional system in which the function of the president is distinct from the executive branch entrusted to the PM and his government, and is rather derived from Benjamin Constant’s notion of “pouvoir moderateur”, it is not a novelty that presidents have expressed their desire to “contribute” to political solutions that pertain to the realm of the executive. Mario Soares famous “open presidencies” were expressions of his agenda setting powers with important consequences in his so called “magistracy of influence”. Jorge Sampaio’s more subtle workshops of experts also set the tone for the intervention of the PR. Cavaco Silva boasted of having introduced amendments to a third of all bills brought before him (maybe in the memoirs he is currently writing he will explain this in detail). In all these instances – that constitute precedents for a PR who is thirsty of prominence – the presidential intervention was kept within the framework of separate powers, not invading the executive prerogatives. Will this hold true for Marcelo?

Fernando Pessoa, the modernist poet, coined the term “President-King” to allude to the brief term in office of Sidónio Pais during the First Republic – a charismatic figure that fell assassinated one year after seizing power in a coup and making himself elected by “universal” suffrage. This term was not supposed to evoke the 19th century constitutional monarchs who exercised a “moderating power” in Constant’s vein, but rather to the authoritative figure of an elusive, undisputed leader of yesteryear. This epithet has recently been retrieved in discussions about Marcelo’s self-ascribed role in national politics. In other words, several commentators and constitutionalists like Vital Moreira (an expert on presidential powers) fear he is mobilizing his enormous popularity and stepping on a thin line that defines the separation of powers. One recent example can be briefly discussed.

An important theatre company announced it was closing down after 43 years, suggesting that differences with public policies (dependent on the government) were to blame for the decision. Marcelo decided to attend their last performance, and the Minister for Culture felt compelled to follow him. Before the performance started, on stage, and with TV crews broadcasting the event, Marcelo debated with the minister the solution for this case.

Previous public decisions of presidents that allegedly interfered with the government competences were all carried through contacts with the PM – never directly with a minister, let alone in full public view. That was the case, for instance, with Jorge Sampaio who withdrew political confidence from one military chief and one minister, forcing the PM to propose their replacement, and who opposed the deployment of Portuguese troops in the Iraq war but did not debate the issue with the Minister for Defence but rather with the PM.

Even if Marcelo’s view was not upheld by the Minister for Culture and the closing down of the theatre company could not be avoided, this episode signals the willingness of the PR to use all the instruments in his toolbox to advance his own agenda, grounded on his capacity to capture the popular sympathy. He did so on other occasions with more success. Two examples: Marcelo publicly stated he would veto a presumed government attempt (inscribed in the Socialist Party manifesto and the government official programme) to reform the metropolitan areas governing bodies – prompting the PM to abandon his electoral compromise. He also made it known he supported the continuation of important “Public-Private Partnerships” (and therefore of significant private sector interests) in the health sector. The Minister for Health agreed to give PPPs a new chance in conflict with the parliamentary left that supports the integration of all public hospitals in the NHS.

There will be no constitutional court to set the limits to the PR’s initiatives. This will rather depend on the political relation of forces – and the force on the president’s side sits with his capacity to mobilize public opinion. That will be the critical factor determining if he succeeds in imposing a share of executive competences at a time when the right of centre is facing severe partisan difficulties to sustain a modicum of influence after a turbulent four and a half years in power. The fact that Marcelo was elected on a rather “independent” platform with the ill-disguised antagonism of PSD and CDS leaderships, with whom he entertains cold relations as his agenda is perceived to be distinct from theirs, enhances his stance and the chances that he will leave a new imprint in the political system.

The Portuguese system is not grounded on the centrality of the presidency to advance political agendas, as one could argue to be the case in France. Carlos Jalali has stressed that the premiership is the most coveted job for active politicians, and political parties are organized round this fact. For this reason, the notion of “cohabitation”and the parallelism with France that it entails is somewhat misplaced to grasp the dynamics of the Portuguese situation. The tense relations between the president and the leadership of his political family’s parties prevents one from considering his intervention as the surrogate for those who sit in the parliamentary minority, or to be strictly articulated with their strategies. Rather, it requires a new form of approach that considers at once the fact that the president has a personal agenda and that he intends to press for its implementation through what I suggest to call “co-government”on the limits of his constitutional powers, and clearly more aggressive than all other presidents after the revision of the Constitution in 1982.

Jorge M. Fernandes and Carlos Jalali – Portuguese Semi-Presidentialism after the 2016 Elections

This is a guest post by Jorge M. Fernandes (University of Bamberg, Germany) and Carlos Jalali (University of Aveiro, Portugal)

The famous dictum attributed to former British PM Harold Macmillan, ‘events, dear boy, events’, helps explain the evolution of Portuguese semi-presidentialism during President Cavaco Silva’s second term in office (2011-2016). In a recently published article in South European Society and Politics, we make an an appraisal of the evolution of semi-presidentialism in Portugal over the ten years of Cavaco’s tenure in power and shed some light on the election of his successor – Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa.

After being comfortably reelected in January 2011, with a 30 percentage point advantage over the second most-voted candidate, the political and economic situation of the country presented Cavaco with a difficult conundrum. The EU/ECB/IMF bailout that lasted from April 2011 until May 2014 placed important constraints on policy-making in Portugal. On the one hand, the president could give vent to popular dissatisfaction with the bailout’s austerity – and use his formal and informal powers to voice bottom-up disagreement with the government’s policies. However, this risked introducing difficulties into the implementation of the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), which could spark the wrath of the international creditors. On the other other hand, by staying idle, Cavaco faced the risk of unpopularity in public opinion.

Cavaco’s decision to give his tacit support to the implementation of the MoU had an important negative impact in his popularity, which, in turn, curbed his political influence. In the final months of his second mandate he was a lame-duck president, with increasing difficulties to use his non-formal powers. For example, in the turbulent government formation process following the October general elections, Cavaco Silva’s influence, or lack thereof, curtailed his capacities to liaise a deal between the two main parties, the Socialists and the Social Democrats, to form a grand coalition. Rather, a sub-optimal solution, from Cavaco’s perspective, was reached: a Socialist minority government with the tacit support of the extreme-left Communists and Left-Bloc.

Typically, Presidents have been the most popular political figures in Portugal, enjoying support levels above party leaders and other office-holders. Figure 1 depicts Cavaco popularity between 2011 and 2016. In January 2012, a sharp drop in popularity hurt Cavaco’s political influence after his public statements on how austerity would have a negative effect on his personal finances and how difficult it would be for him to pay for his personal expenses. Overall, at the end of his mandate, the institutional figure of the Presidency had its prestige and influence severely eroded due to Cavaco’s unpopularity in office.

Figure 1: Evaluation of President Cavaco Silva’s performance, 2011-2016 (balance between positive and negative evaluations)

Picture1

The 2016 presidential election took place against this backdrop. In addition, the months leading to the presidential election had witnessed the unfolding of some of the most dramatic events in Portuguese democracy, with a difficult government formation process. The presidential election had 10 candidates, an unprecedented figure since Portugal held presidential free and fair elections in 1976.

Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, the right-wing candidate supported by the Social Democrats and the Christian Democrats, seemed poised to win the election, with his high levels of popularity garnered over decades as a political pundit in a popular television show. On the left, a myriad of candidates was trailing Marcelo’s lead in the polls, fighting for an opportunity in the second round. Sampaio da Nóvoa, a highly respected academic figure, earned the support of some of the founding fathers of Portuguese democracy in the Socialist Party. The candidate lacked, however, name recognition by median voters, which would have a negative impact on his result. Maria de Belém, a former Socialist minister, launched her bid to the presidency urged by a faction within the Socialist party. The Socialist party and the Prime Minister chose not to endorse any of the candidates. The Communists presented Edgar Silva, a former priest with low public visibility, while the Left Bloc put forth Marisa Matias, an MEP and a rising star in the party. In addition to the mainstream candidates, there were five independent candidates, looking to build upon the anti-party sentiment and to surf the discontent wave grassing in Portugal.

The campaign had a remarkably low mobilization. The hollowing of the presidential campaign resulted from the perception of the irrelevance of the president’s role, ensuing Cavaco’s choice not to help mitigate austerity and to give his (at least) tacit support to the bail-out measures. For all its problems, the role of the president in the political system was not debated during the campaign. Instead, candidates chose to have a personalized campaign, depoliticizing most of their campaign actions, focusing on personal contact with the population and in making a character judgment of the candidates. Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, the leading candidate in the polls, followed this strategy strictly in the hope that this would deflate the importance of the elections, allowing him to be elected in the first round.

On January 24th, 48.66 per cent of registered voters went to the polls to elect a new president, the lowest turnout in odd-numbered presidential elections, which have traditionally been more competitive for their importance in selecting a non-incumbent president. Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa won 52 per cent of vote, with a catch-all coalition. To be sure, his score surpassed the aggregate score of his supporting parties (PSD and CSD), just three months before, by adding 15.1 to the share of those two parties. Sampaio da Nóvoa came second with 22.9 per cent of the votes, falling just 2 percentage points short of forcing Marcelo into a second round, a remarkable feat for an unknown academic figure. Marisa Matias came third, with 10.1 per cent of the votes, yielding the best presidential score in the history of the Left Bloc. In contrast, the Communists had a grim electoral result, with their worst result ever, with just 3.9 per cent. Maria de Belém, the other candidate from the Socialist area, scored just 4.2 per cent, an extremely bad result for the former Health minister. Surprisingly, for all Portugal’s economic woes, anti-system candidates had very modest scores, totaling 6.84 per cent of the vote for 5 candidates.

What can we expect from a Marcelo presidency? On the surface, President Marcelo differs little from his predecessor. Both Marcelo and Cavaco Silva were previous leaders of the PSD; both had the backing of the PSD and the CDS; and both won their presidential elections on the first round with a margin of 30 percentage points over the second-placed candidate. Yet his first months in office suggest that Marcelo is trying to distance himself as much as possible from his predecessor’s legacy. Indeed, in this initial period President Marcelo has actively courted public opinion, cultivated a supra-partisan stance and avoided tensions with the Socialist government of António Costa. This contrasts sharply with how Cavaco Silva’s presidency ended: an increasingly withdrawn and unpopular political figure, perceived by the left as a partisan president and unable to forge the consensus he sought between PSD, PS and CDS – most notably, in the aftermath of the 2015 legislative elections. President Marcelo thus appears to seek to re-establish the presidency after a period of hollowing out of the presidency which also shaped the presidential elections of 2016.

However, the end of Cavaco Silva’s presidency does not solely differ from the initial Marcelo presidency: it also stands in stark contrast from the initial period of Cavaco Silva’s own presidency. Then, just as with Marcelo, Cavaco Silva was an overwhelmingly popular president (with an average balance between positive and negative evaluations of +52.8 per cent throughout 2006) who maintained an ‘above party’ stance and avoided friction with a Socialist government – indeed, so much so that prime minister Sócrates told President Cavaco in December 2006 that ‘we like working with you’. Cavaco’s undoing was largely the result of a deteriorating economic, social and political situation that culminated in a bailout. Marcelo – who is widely reputed as a master political tactician – will need all his tactical nous to avoid repeating Cavaco’s fate, not least as Portugal’s economic, social and political situation remains uncertain and precarious.

Rui Graça Feijó – A New Configuration for Portuguese Semi-Presidentialism?

This is a guest post by Rui Graça Feijó of CES/UCoimbra and IHC/UNLisboa

Recent elections (legislative in October 2015, presidential in January 2016) have changed the political landscape in Portugal. This piece aims to assess their impact upon the configuration of Portuguese semi-presidentialism.

The Portuguese government system has been basically stable since its adoption in 1976. Only once (1982) has there been a constitutional revision that addressed the distribution of powers among state organs. No significant institutional change has occurred since then. Politically, however, the story is more complex.

The 1987 elections returned the first single party majority. This gave the PM a prominent position, which has been characterised as the “presidentialism of prime minister” (Moreira 1989). Marina Costa Lobo (2005) has suggested that the “presidentialization of politics” manifested itself in the enhanced role of a PM who had been anointed with a direct mandate. After 1987, a non-written rule existed whereby the election of parliament was combined with a parallel “election” of the PM, reducing the room for decisions for president and parliament, as if being the leader of the largest party was a sufficient condition for acceding to the premiership. Only one PM failed to meet this criterion (Santana Lopes after Barroso left for Brussels in mid-term), and this was credited with weakening his legitimacy. This rule contrasted with the previous practice (the first parliament saw 4 different PMs). The rationale was that it would counteract the instability of the first years of constitutionalism and offer accrued legitimacy to the leader of the largest party in the context where a new government did not require a positive vote of investiture.

After the 2015 legislative elections President Cavaco appointed a PM who was the leader of the winning (but minority) coalition. The left majority in the House brought this government down. For the first time, the “winner” of an election was defeated in parliament at the beginning of his term. The president reluctantly appointed the leader of the second largest party to form a government with a majority of seats. This was a major novelty. Back in 1982, after PM Balsemão resigned, President Eanes refused to appoint Vitor Crespo who had the support of the majority, and dissolved the House. In 1987, when Cavaco’s minority government was defeated in the House, President Soares refused to appoint the socialist leader, even though he was supported by a majority and called early elections instead. Only in 2004 did President Sampaio accept a new PM without fresh elections – but he made a point of placing the government under special scrutiny and four months later he dissolved parliament. All these instances suggest a critical point in the configuration of Portuguese semi-presidentialism: disposing of majority support in parliament is not a sufficient condition for a PM to be appointed or to remain in office as the notion of “popular election” supposes. It takes the political will of the PR to nominate and maintain the PM in office. This embodies the principle of double responsibility of the PM vis-à-vis parliament and the president (one that is central to president-parliamentary sub-types of semi-presidentialism)

The 2015 elections were held when presidential powers were curtailed as he was serving his last six months in office. Faced with a situation he politically opposed, Cavaco considered alternatives that included keeping the defeated PM as a caretaker until fresh elections could be called, or resurrecting the “governments of presidential initiative” that had been the hallmark of President Eanes’ first term – not unlike solutions found in Italy (Monti) and Greece (Papademos). In the end, he bowed to the parliamentary majority and European pressure on budgetary matters. One of his legal advisers, António de Araujo, claimed that a new configuration of Portuguese semi-presidentialism was emerging: a “parliamentary semi-presidentialism” (2016). However, this may be a hasty conclusion.

For one, Cavaco’s term was coming to an end. If he had still been in office on the day new elections would have taken place, there is no doubt that he would have dissolved the parliament. Secondly, Cavaco imposed strict limits on the government’s programme that were not related to institutional considerations (as President Sampaio had done in 2004), but that related instead to the right-wing agenda he espoused. Finally, the new President, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, who was formally supported by PSD and CDS, was elected on a right of centre platform that was politically different from the one espoused by the coalition with the benediction of Cavaco in the previous legislative elections: he has made it known that he intends to exercise all the powers the constitution bestows upon the head of state, distancing himself both from “minimalist” positions that Cavaco is supposed to have upheld and from the conditions he imposed. Even if Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa is not known for the consistency of his positions over time, as far back as 1984 he wrote:

A few months after the constitutional revision the president had the opportunity to exercise three fundamental powers: the power to dismiss the government, the power to refuse the appointment of a prime minister proposed by the parliamentary majority, and the power to dissolve the Assembly of the Republic […] against the opinion of the majority of the Council of State (1984: 57)

This is the view he most certainly still holds of his powers. It came as no surprise that he said he would “review” his support for government in the fall of 2017 when local government elections will be held. This means he has not relinquished any of his prerogatives, including those that refer to the survival of government.

A new configuration of Portuguese semi-presidentialism is thus emerging: both directly elected institutions – parliament and president – have their roles enhanced. The “election” of the PM has lost its importance. It is clear that more than depending on direct popular support, the PM responds politically both to the President of the Republic and the Assembly of the Republic, and both organs are keen to exercise their full competences. Without implying an institutional modification, these developments amount to a new model for Portuguese semi-presidentialism, where the PM is no longer the only central figure.

References

Araujo, António. 2016. “Semi-presidencialismo de assembleia”, in Público, 13 January

Lobo, Marina Costa. 2005. “The Presidentialization of Portuguese Democracy?” in Thomas Poguntke and Paul Webb (eds), The Presidentialization of Politics, Oxford, OUP

Moreira, Adriano. 1989. “O regime: presidencialismo do primeiro ministro” in Mario Batista Coelho (ed), Portugal: o sistema politico-constitucional 1974-1987. Lisboa, ICS

Sousa, Marcelo Rebelo. 1984. O Sistema de Governo Português, antes e depois da revisão constitucional. Lisboa, Cognitio (3rd edition)

Portugal – President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa: hyperactive and omnipresent in uncertain times

On 16 June President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa marked his first 100 days in office. Rebelo de Sousa is a new kind of president: hyperactive and omnipresent. His relationship with Prime Minister Costa, leader of the Socialist Party (PS) is peaceful and co-operative. Who is President Rebelo de Sousa and why does the conservative president support a socialist government?

The 67-year old law professor Rebelo de Sousa is a centre-right politician. He was one of the founders of the Democratic People’s party (PPD), later renamed as the Social Democratic Party (PSD). Under Prime Minister Francisco Pinto Balsemão (PSD, 1981-1983), Rebelo de Sousa served as Secretary of State for the Presidency of the Council of Ministers (1981-1982) and Minister of Parliamentary Affairs (1982-1983). He was leader of the PSD party (1996-1999), and member of the Council of State (2000-2001, 2006-2016). In the presidential election, he was not an official candidate of PSD but stood as an independent. Unlike his predecessor Aníbal Cavaco Silva (PSD)[1], President Rebelo de Sousa known as ‘Professor Marcelo’ never held a top state position but gained widespread popularity thanks to his long years of work as a political commentator on television.

The new president, who claims to read two books a day and sleep no more than four-and-a-half hours a night, is considered to be ‘hyperactive’. Since his inauguration on 9 March, he has participated, reportedly, in no fewer than 250 initiatives, including seven state visits abroad. His speeches, statements and other kind of public appearances have received much media attention, which, allegedly, has contributed to his rising popularity. Critics believe that the President’s ‘omnipresence’ could put him on a collision course with Prime Minister Costa.

Compared with Cavaco Silva, the new president is closer to the people, cares less about protocol and acts more like a non-partisan president. “He [Cavaco Silva] just wasn’t present in the lives of the our citizens”, said Maria de Belém, the former acting leader of the PS. Marisa Matias of the Left Bloc said: “Cavaco [Silva] was a president who occupied himself with inaugurations in the intervals of his subservience to the ruling party, his own.”

Prime Minister Costa’s government consists solely of members of the PS but enjoys parliamentary support from the Left Bloc (BE), the Communist Party (PCP), and the Green Party (PEV). Underpinning this leftist alliance – together they control 122 seats in Portugal’s 230-seat National Parliament – is a 138-page compromise agreement between the four parties aimed at gradually winding back the austerity measures adopted by the Passos Coelho government. Yet, government decisions are ultimately subject to the approval of the BE, PCP and PEV. Policy is thus the outcome of ad-hoc agreements between the government and their parliamentary coalition partners.

Despite the fact that the President and Prime Minister are from opposing political forces, institutional conflict has been largely absent in Portugal because, firstly, President Rebelo de Sousa supports the current government in order to encourage political stability. In his presidential victory speech, he called for consensus between political parties to “heal the wounds” of the political crisis.[2] “I won’t create any problem, any instability, any criticism of government action. I will try to keep the basis of support for the government intact.” True to his word, the President approved the 2016 anti-austerity budget and promulgated the 35-hour working week law for civil servants[3], despite the fact that the Popular Party (CDS-PP) and PSD had voted against both laws. The President vetoed the surrogacy law. Another reason why ‘intra-executive conflict’ has been largely absent is because the President and Prime Minister are close personal friends, which, most probably, has facilitated peaceful institutional cooperation.

President Rebelo de Sousa knows he plays a critical role in fostering political stability. His hyperactivity is one symptom of this. The president has the power to dissolve parliament when, for instance, decision-making is paralysed due to interparty conflicts. This scenario is not unlikely to unfold in reality. The socialists and communists have a long history of intense hostility, which prevented them from forming a left-wing coalition government. In particular, EU related issues could generate friction between the pro-EU government and its “anti-European” allies. The leftist alliance is the first since the birth of democratic Portugal four decades ago.

[1] Former President Aníbal Cavaco Silva was Prime Minister from 1985-1995.

[2] In October 2015, Portugal was plunged into crisis following inconclusive parliamentary elections. The centre-right coalition of PM Pedro Passos Coelho (PSD) won the most votes in the 2015 parliamentary elections but lost the absolute majority it had enjoyed since 2011. Passos Coelho formed a centre-right minority government, but was forced to resign after parliament passed a censure motion.

[3] The law reduces the length of a working week for civil servants from 40 to 35 hours.

Pedro C. Magalhães – The Portuguese presidential elections of 2016 (or a tough day for party politics)

This is a guest post by Pedro C. Magalhães, Researcher at the Institute of Social Sciences of the University of Lisbon, Portugal

Pedro

Last Sunday, Portugal elected the fifth president of its democratic Third Republic. Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, 67 years old, is a professor of constitutional law and a long time member of the center-right PSD, over which he presided in the late 1990s. However, he’s probably best known among the general public as a political pundit, after having held a weekly political commentary show for many years, first on the radio (in the early 1990s) and then on the TV (since 2000). Endorsed in the election by his own party and by the CDS (a smaller party on the right), he got 52% of the vote (about 2.4 million votes), thus dispensing with a second round.

Turnout was 48.8%. Although slightly above the 2011 elections, this a low figure. First, presidential elections such as this one, where the president does not run (there is a two term limit), typically have higher turnout levels (70% on average since 1976), in contrast with the less competitive cases when the incumbent president runs (60% on average since 1976, 46.5% in the last such election, in 2011). 48.8% this means means it was the lowest turnout ever recorded for an election without the incumbent running. Second, turnout was also low from a comparative point of view. If we start from a list of European semi-presidential systems and look for the turnout rates in the most recent presidential elections held there (from IDEA’s Voter Turnout website), we see that Portugal’s turnout rates have been very low recently. The 2016 rate, although an improvement over 2011, still ranks among the lowest in these countries’ recent elections (see Figure 1). In other words, there is a clear mismatch between the important powers enjoyed by the Portuguese president —including, among others, the discretionary ability to dissolve parliament, appoint the Prime Minister, veto legislation and refer bills and laws to the Constitutional Court — and the level of electoral mobilization reached in recent elections.

Voter_Turnout_in_presidential_elections_for_latest_election_2016-01-26-2

Part of the explanation may be structural, as turnout has been decreasing throughout in Portugal both in legislative and European elections. However, some specificities of the election may also account for this. Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa presented a campaign budget of 157.000 euros (170.000 US dollars, 119.000 British pounds), a ridiculously small amount. Contrary to common practice, there were no campaign billboards or posters of him to be seen across the country. That a candidate can win a presidential election without any major conventional mobilization efforts is interesting and deserves attention. Part of the explanation is that Rebelo de Sousa started out with a stratospheric advantage over all other nine candidates in terms of public notoriety, fed by a decade and a half of television appearances and reinforced by discrete year-long ground efforts near local chapters of the PSD. For him, “lowering the heat” to the bare minimum was clearly the preferable strategy, decreasing the salience of the campaign and thus making it as hard as possible for his opponents to overcome their notoriety gap. Besides, he also understood quite soon that he was not the preferred candidate of his own party’s leadership. The PSD continued throughout most of 2015 to toy around with the possibility of endorsing Rui Rio (former mayor of Oporto) or even Durão Barroso (former EU Commission President). Thus, Marcelo had to impose himself to his own party. This he ultimately achieved, after all potential opponents withdrew. But he still could not count with the mobilization efforts of the PSD party machine, and he knew it.

After having meticulously distanced himself from the PSD/CDS center-right cabinet in his political commentaries throughout the last year, he also proceeded to make himself as palatable as possible to the centrist and even center-left electorate. After the tense and polarized political environment that followed the October 2015 legislative elections — which included the fall of a new short-lived minority PSD-CDS government and its replacement by a PS minority cabinet supported in parliament by the Left Bloc and the Communist Party — Rebelo de Sousa avoided taking strong stances on almost all of the issues raised during those last months, refusing to commit to any systematic opposition to the left-wing government and presenting himself as a moderate president aiming at “reconciliation”. “I am the left of the right”, he said. If pre-election polls are to be trusted in this regard, he did manage to broaden his appeal to a segment of the leftist electorate, while remaining hegemonic among PSD and CDS voters. The latter were probably too concerned with the possibility of ending up with a left-wing president alongside the current left-wing government to care about Marcelo’s unwillingness to cater to their disappointment with recent political developments. It is true that, as he started dropping in the polls (from about 62% in late December to 53% in the last week of the campaign), some feared that his moderation and his effort at “lowering the heat” of the campaign would end up in a failure to mobilize his support base and avoid a second round. But these fears were unjustified.

The Socialist Party (PS) ended up not officially endorsing any candidate, and the party cadres divided their support between Sampaio da Nóvoa (a left-wing independent and former Rector of the University of Lisbon) and Maria de Belém (a former Socialist minister). Together, they got no more than 27% of the vote, about 1.25 million votes, five percentage points and almost 500.000 votes below the (already disappointing) result of the Socialists in the October 2015 election. Belém’s result (4.2%) was particularly catastrophic, and certainly not alien to a controversy in the late campaign about her opposition to the withdrawal of a life-time subsidy for MP’s. However, her lag vis-à-vis Sampaio da Nóvoa had started earlier, and in a sense also seems to be linked to the general theme in this campaign: while Rebelo de Sousa became president regardless of his own party, “party” did next to nothing for Belém, with many Socialist voters turning their hopes instead in the direction of the independent Sampaio da Nóvoa. A 27% aggregate result is worrying for the Socialists. However, it is also a reflection of Rebelo de Sousa’s “long campaign” strategy: becoming a seemingly unbeatable favorite from early on, he conditioned everybody else’s response, including the PS’s. The Socialists failed to find a single strong candidate willing to challenge Marcelo and ended up with two people that, regardless of their personal merits, are political lightweights. One thing could have seriously derailed Marcelo’s strategy and its repercussions to the overall campaign: if former Socialist PM António Guterres, currently UN High Commissioner for Refugees, had decided to jump into the fray. But Guterres seems instead interested in a candidacy for UN Secretary General and, if that fails, there are interesting and highly prestigious non-political jobs waiting for him back in Portugal.

Finally, a note about the performance of the candidates supported by the Left Bloc (BE) and the Communist Party (PCP). Marisa Matias, from the BE, got about 10% of the vote. That’s 460.000 votes, merely 30.000 below the score of the BE in October (in a more participated election) and 170.000 more than the best BE presidential candidate ever. This contrasts starkly with the abysmal performance of the Communist Party candidate, Edgar Silva, a virtually unknown former priest: 4% of the vote, the worst result ever by a candidate endorsed by the PCP. This result confirms and expands that of the 2015 legislative elections, where the BE clearly surpassed the Communists. Whether this means that the BE will be finally able to overcome the past volatility of its electoral base and definitely replace the Communist as the main party to the left of the PS remains to be seen, but this is clearly the most dangerous threat to Communists’ role in the political system that the party — the oldest, best organized, and most socially rooted in Portugal — has ever faced. That the survival of the Socialist minority cabinet depends on both the PCP and the BE adds additional uncertainty about how the response of the former to this threat will affect cabinet stability.

In his victory speech, president-elect Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa talked about “national unity”, “social cohesion” and the need to address “social injustices that the crisis has increased, but without endangering financial solidity”. This may sound like a bunch of generalities spoken by a powerless figurehead president, pleasing all sides and alienating nobody. Generalities they may be, but Portuguese presidents have never been powerless or irrelevant. Nor have they been particularly predictable. In 1990, by the end of Mário Soares first term as president, people debated whether it still made sense to popularly elect a President what had turned into a sort of “Queen of England”. But in his second term, Soares quickly proceeded to become the main source of opposition to the government and, since his tenure, more than one cabinet was led to its demise with the active collaboration of a president.

So it is wise not to make any rash judgments on the basis of this victory speech. It is true that, like others before him, the new president will be constrained by the so far irresistible lure of reelection five years from now (all previous Portuguese presidents successfully went for a second term). In the past, this has helped keeping first term presidents in check, forcing them to aim at the median voter and at the fulfillment of the most general expectation seem to have Portuguese have of the presidency: that it should be a vigilant but mostly neutral and impartial arbiter of politics. However, facing a minority cabinet, and with the present level of political, financial and economic uncertainty in Portugal, playing that relatively modest role may become difficult for the new president. At the very least, whenever Rebelo de Sousa needs and wants to act, he can do so as one of the least politically constrained presidents Portugal ever had, having imposed himself on his party, being elected with little help from it, and having no favors from campaign funders he has to pay back. So what kind of president will he be? Unfortunately, now we won’t have Marcelo the pundit speculating about Marcelo the President. Or will we? Even that is unpredictable.

Happy New Year? Christmas and New Year’s addresses by European presidents for 2016

In the first blog post of 2015, I explored the origins of and various customs and conventions surrounding the Christmas and New Year’s addresses by European heads of state. This year, I will look more closely at the content of these speeches (although focussing – for the sake of brevity – only on presidents, i.e. non-hereditary heads of state this time).

Finnish Niinistö records his New Year's speech for 2016 | photo (c) Office of the President of the Republic of Finland 2016

Finnish president Sauli Niinistö records his New Year’s speech for 2016 | (c) Office of the President of the Republic of Finland 2016

As I noted in my post last year, Christmas and New Year’s addresses rarely rarely belong to the most important political speeches in European democracies and often include a short summary of the last year’s events in the country. Common themes (apart from holiday wishes) are relatively rare. This year, however, many presidents directly addressed the refugee crisis in Europe. The presidents of Austria and Germany who have had to deal with extraordinary refugee streams both called for compassion and tried to strengthen the ‘can do’-spirit that has so far characterised the reactions of Federal Chancellors’ Merkel and Faynmann and volunteers in both countries. Presidents of other countries hit by the surge of refugees did not address the issue so clearly. Hungarian president Ader referred to it among other unexpected events of 2015, while the Slovenian and Croatian presidents Pahor and Grabar-Kitarović in their – significantly shorter seasons’ greetings – did not raise the issue at all apart from vague references to difficulties.

The refugee crisis featured more prominently on the other hand in the speeches of Slovak president Kiska and Czech president Zeman – yet taking almost diametrically opposed positions. Kiska largely downplayed the issue stating Slovakia was much less affected than other countries and the issue should not dominate the national agenda. Zeman on the other hand, called the influx of refugees as “an organized invasion” and called for young male refugees to return to their country to fight ISIS. Given Zeman’s previous statements this is hardly surprising, yet it is generally unusual for a Christmas message to include such controversial material. The refugee crisis also took centre stage in speeches by Finnish president Niinistö as he justified the steps taken by the government to limit the number of people receiving help.

Another theme in presidential speeches were national tragedies and the security. The Paris attacks featured strongly in French president Hollande’s speech, so did the Germanwing air crash in German president Gauck’s Christmas message. The ongoing Ukrainian crisis and potential conflict with Russia as well as the war in Syria were included in a number of speeches. Yet presidents also focussed on the economic situation and way of the recession – most prominently included in the messages of the presidents of Greece, Portugal and Iceland. The latter’s speech was however mostly reported on due to the fact that president Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson announced that he would not run for a sixth term as president.

Overall, this once again highlights that presidential Christmas and New Year’s addresses can be important indicators of the political situation or the importance of particular events throughout the year. Until now, there has nevertheless been only very limited academic research on presidential statements on these occasions. So far, I could only find an analysis of the role of religion in new year’s addresses by Swiss Federal Presidents – showing an overall decline in biblical references throughout the years. [1] In most European republics appear to follow this trend – explicit biblical references beyond a mere reference to the holiday can only be found in the speeches of the presidents of Malta and Hungary.

Christmas - NY presidents 2016 + Wulff 2011

From top left to bottom right: Presidents Higgins (Ireland), Duda (Poland), Wulff (Germany; 2011), Coleiro Preca (Malta), Iohannis (Romania).

Last but not least (and partly inspired by the DailyMail’s analysis of the photographs on Queen Elizabeth II’s desk), I think it is worth looking at the setting of presidents’ speeches. Where speeches are broadcast on TV (or recorded and then put on youtube), the setting is surprisingly similar with the president usually sitting or standing in front of flags or a fireplace. In Germany, this set-up had so much become the norm that Christian Wulff’s walking speech among a group of surprisingly diverse citizens (see centre image of above collage) caused great excitement among editors trying to fill the seasonal news slump. More unusual however was Swiss Federal President Adolf Ogi’s address of 2000 – he stood in front of a railway tunnel (watch the video here).

__________________________________________
[1] Kley, Andreas (2008). ‘”Und der Herrgott, Herr Bundespräsident?” Zivilreligion in den Neujahrsansprachen der schweizerischen Bundespräsidenten’. In: Kraus, Dieter et al. Schweizerisches Jahrbuch für Kirchenrecht. Bern, Switzerland, 11-56.

A list with links to the 2015/2016 speeches can be downloaded here.

Carlos Jalali – The President’s Role in Government Formation in Portugal: Is Discretion the Better Part of Power?

The October 2015 legislative elections in Portugal have raised the prospect of a significant change in the Portuguese party system. As Lydia Beuman noted in her election report, the election results have raised the prospect of an unprecedented entente between the Socialist Party (Partido Socialista, PS) and the parties to its left, the Portuguese Communist Party (Partido Comunista Português, PCP) and the Left Bloc (Bloco de Esquerda, BE), to form a left-wing government. At the time of writing, the negotiations between the left-wing parties are virtually complete, with the Socialists and Left Bloc approving the deal, and the Communist Party’s Central Committee deciding on it today.

The prospect of a left-wing government has also generated substantial interest in the powers of the Portuguese president with regard to government formation. Since the short-lived (and ultimately failed) attempt by President Eanes to appoint presidential-inspired governments that circumvented the political parties in 1978-79, the president’s power of appointment of prime ministers has been largely disregarded. Indeed, presidential practice since then has been to appoint as prime minister the leader of the most voted party or list, and all of these PMs then saw their governments successfully invested by parliament. This pattern may explain why Siaroff (2003) classified the Portuguese president as not having discretionary appointment powers since the 1982 constitutional revision. However, as we shall see next, the Portuguese constitution grants considerable discretionary power to the president with regard to the appointment of a prime minister.

So what is the process of government formation in Portugal? The constitution stipulates that “The President of the Republic shall appoint the Prime Minister after consulting the parties with seats in the Assembly of the Republic and in light of the electoral results” (article 187, no. 1). This Prime Minister, as formateur, then proposes a government to the President, who appoints the rest of the cabinet: “The President of the Republic shall appoint the remaining members of the Government upon a proposal from the Prime Minister” (article 187, no. 2).

Government formation follows a standard two-stage process. Thus, once the first stage of government appointment is concluded, this new executive must obtain investiture by parliament. The parliamentary investiture regime is characterised by Cheibub, Martin & Rasch (2015) as a weak one, being reactive, ex post and requiring a negative majority to topple the government. In terms of constitutional conditions, this second stage requires that:

– “Within at most ten days of its appointment, the Government shall submit its Programme to the Assembly of the Republic for consideration, by means of a Prime Ministerial statement” (article 192, no. 1);

– “The debate shall not last for more than three days, and until it is closed, any parliamentary group may make a motion rejecting the Programme, and the Government may request the passage of a confidence motion.” (article 192, no. 2); and

– “Rejection of the Government’s Programme shall require an absolute majority of all the Members in full exercise of their office” (article 192, no. 3).

If a government programme is rejected by parliament, the entire process of government formation is started anew.

As can be gleaned from the constitutional provisions, the president has considerable discretion in terms of appointing a prime minister. While the constitution states that he must do so “in light of the electoral results”, this proviso does not remove presidential leeway. The process of government formation in the aftermath of the 2015 legislative elections bears this reading out.

Having met with all the parties with seats in Parliament, President Cavaco Silva formally appointed the outgoing prime minister and leader of the centre-right Social Democrat Party (PSD), Pedro Passos Coelho, as prime minister on October 22nd. This appointment took place even though the leaders of the left-wing parties (which together have a parliamentary majority) all announced they would reject this government, stating their preference for the appointment of the leader of the Socialist Party as prime minister.

The Passos Coelho government will have its programme discussed in parliament this Monday and Tuesday (November 10th and 11th). Barring a last minute coup de théâtre, such as the rejection of the deal with the PS by the Communist Party’s Central Committee or a rebellion by Socialist backbenchers (both highly unlikely scenarios), this government is set to fail its investiture by parliament. This will trigger the automatic resignation of the government (article 195, no. 1(d) of the Constitution: “The Government shall resign upon rejection of the Government’s Programme”). The process of government formation will then be restarted.

The uncertainty associated to this forthcoming ‘second stab’ at government formation again highlights the president’s discretion over appointing a prime minister. Rumours have emerged in the press that President Cavaco Silva may opt not to appoint the leader of the Socialist Party as prime minister, preferring instead to have a caretaker government until fresh elections can be called (parliament can be dissolved in approximately six months, as the constitution precludes dissolutions in the initial six months after a legislative election – article 172[i]).

The veracity of these rumours is at best uncertain: Cavaco Silva has always been a very guarded politician, and his circumspection is unlikely to have faded in this final (and quite likely most significant) act of his political career. Moreover, judging from the debate this prospect has generated, such an option would not be very popular on the right either. However, the fact that the possibility of President Cavaco Silva not appointing the leader of the PS as prime minister exists (and is being discussed) is in itself a reflection of the degree of presidential discretion over prime ministerial appointment in Portugal.

[i] There has been much talk in Portugal that the current political impasse is facilitated by the fact that President Cavaco Silva is in the final six months of his term of office (which ends in March 2016), when a president is precluded from dissolving parliament (also in article 172). However, even if the President were not in his final six months, fresh elections would still only take place in April/May 2016, because of dissolution is barred in the first six months after a parliamentary election.

Carlos Jalali (D.Phil., University of Oxford, UK) is Assistant Professor at the University of Aveiro, Portugal, and is currently a visiting scholar at Brown University, US. His research is on Portuguese political institutions, parties and electoral behaviour, published in Party Politics, South European Society and Politics and Journal of Political Marketing, among others.

Portugal – Parliamentary elections: ruling coalition wins but loses majority in parliament

On 4 October parliamentary elections were held in Portugal. No coalition or party managed to win an outright majority in the ballot. Both the ruling centre-right coalition and the main opposition party lost seats in parliament. Together, they won around 70 per cent of the vote but refuse to govern together. The formation of another central bloc is thus unlikely.[1]

Portugal’s single chamber parliament is elected for a four-year term and its 230 seats are allocated according to the D’Hondt formula. The ruling ‘Portugal Ahead’ coalition formed by the Social Democrats (PSD) and Christian Democrats (CDS-PP) won 104 seats, 12 seats short of an absolute majority in parliament. The Socialists (PS) moved up from 74 seats to 85, while the Left Bloc (BE) claimed a record 19 seats and the Communists (CDU) elected 17. The Party for People, Animals and Nature (PAN) makes its debut in Parliament after electing one MP. The turnout set a new record low of 56.9 per cent of the registered voters.

The Constitution gives the president the power to appoint the government formateur, which in Portugal is the prime minister. President Cavaco Silva has allocated this responsibility to Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho, leader of the most voted party PSD, a move which the Socialists denounced as ‘extemporaneous’. Meanwhile, the PS has started negotiations with the Left Bloc and the Communists in an attempt to form a majority coalition.

Minority or majority government?

If the leftist parties manage to form a majority coalition, it would become the first leftist government in the history of democratic Portugal. The parties BE and CDU have never been included in any government since 1976. Such a scenario would clearly pose a dilemma for President Cavaco Silva who prefers a centre-right government led by his (former) party PSD. The President’s rapid decision to nominate PM Passos Coelho as government formateur is only one example of this.

A minority centre-right coalition would only be viable if it reaches an agreement with the Socialists regarding the 2016 state budget. Political instability looms in the case that the PS rejects the budget. Worse still, the President cannot resolve the political impasse. The Constitution not only prevents the president from dissolving parliament in the last six months of a presidential term, it also states that parliament cannot be dismissed during the first six months after parliamentary elections.

Presidential elections are scheduled for January 2016. According to opinion polls PSD candidate and university professor Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa is most likely to become President Cavaco Silva’s successor. The new president can only dissolve parliament and call for fresh elections by April 2016.

[1] Central Bloc (Portuguese: Bloco Central) is the name given in Portugal to the grand coalition PS and PSD which ruled from 1983 to 1985.