Tag Archives: President Cavaco Silva

Portugal – President Cavaco Silva’s “deafening silence”

“What use is a President who neither speaks nor acts?” This question was raised by Mário Soares, founder of the Socialist Party (SP) and former Prime Minister (1976-1978, 1983-1985) and President (1986-1996) of Portugal. Now, though, members of opposition parties are accusing President Cavaco Silva, former member of the Social Democratic Party (PSD), of acting like the president of the PSD party and not as a president of all the Portuguese.

In Portugal it is common practice that a president-elect gives up his/her party membership before assuming office.[1] So, Portuguese presidents are formally non-partisan. Yet, President Cavaco Silva’s “non-partisanship” has been subject of much discussion. Critics have accused the President of being silent about a number of key issues and interpret his inactivity as a form of political support for the government headed by Prime Minister Passos Coelho, leader of the PSD party to which he belonged.

In September 2014 the Ministry of Education made an error which led to the incorrect allocation of 880 teachers to secondary schools. The direct consequence was that thousands of pupils throughout Portugal were without teachers for over a month. Only after criticism in the media about the President’s silence on the issue did Cavaco Silva call for “serious reflection” about the teacher allocation model.

In the same month the “Citius” computer system used by the Ministry of Justice failed to become operational, leading to a partial paralysis of the country’s Court system for one and a half months. The SP demanded the resignation of the Minister of Justice, Paula Teixeira da Cruz (PSD). The leader of the new Democratic Republican Party (PRD) and Member of the European Parliament, António Marinho e Pinto, condemned the President’s “deafening silence”, accusing him of behaving more like the president of the Social Democratic Party (PSD) than as a president of all Portuguese citizens.

On 17 November Interior Minister Miguel Macedo stepped down over an investigation into alleged corruption linked to the issuing of so-called “golden visas” to wealthy foreigners. Macedo became the fourth minister to resign in the centre-right PSD-CDS-PP coalition government since it took office in June 2011. In 2013, the “Annus Horribilis” for Prime Minister Passos Coelho, no fewer than three ministers resigned: the Minister of Parliamentary Affairs, Miguel Relvas (PSD), the Minister of Finance, Vítor Gaspar (independent), and the Minister of Economy, Álvaro Santos Pereira (PSD). The latter did not ask for his resignation but was replaced by António Pires de Lima (CDS-PP) in a cabinet reshuffle in 24 July 2013.

The resignation of the Interior Minister Macedo led the opposition to ask for a cabinet reshuffle. Yet, Macedo was replaced by Anabela Rodrigues (again, an independent), the first female Interior Minister of Portugal. So far, the President has refrained from commenting on the corruption scandal that allegedly involves the head of Portugal’s border agency and the president of the registration and notary institute.

The Constitution states that a president cannot dissolve parliament during the first six months after a parliamentary election. In other words, snap elections would deprive the president of this power at an earlier stage. President Cavaco Silva has not called for early elections. On 8 November he announced that parliamentary elections are to be held between 14 September and 14 October 2015.

[1] Novais, J. R. (2007) Semipresidencialismo. Coimbra: Edições Almedina

Portugal – Institutional conflict may trigger snap elections

Tensions are mounting between the ruling centre-right coalition and the Constitutional Court after the latter recently rejected three measures proposed by the government in the 2014 national budget. Opposition parties have called on President Cavaco Silva to dissolve parliament and call for an early general election because of the government’s recurrent breaches of the constitution and alleged attempts to influence the court’s decisions.

Over the last few years, the Constitutional Court has reviewed the legality of various austerity measures agreed with the “Troika” – European Commission, European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund – in return for the €78 billion loan package granted to Portugal in May 2011. Indeed, over the past three years the Court has struck down nine such measures.[1] The Court’s latest rejection of three fiscal measures[2] has forced the government to search for alternative measures to ensure the state’s deficit falls to 4 per cent of the GDP this year and 2.5 per cent next year, as required by the Troika. On 12 June Finance Minister Maria Luís Albuquerque announced that the government would forgo the final instalment of €2.6 billion due under the international bailout programme because the Court’s decision prevented the government from complying with the conditions set out in the programme. Portugal officially exited the international bailout programme on 17 May 2014.

The Court’s latest rejection of the austerity measures has intensified the already strained relationship between the government and the Constitutional Court. On 5 June, during the closing of a conference rather ironically titled “Democracy and new Representations”, Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho, the leader of the Social Democratic Party (PSD), fanned the flames by saying that the Court needed “better judges” who should be subject to “greater scrutiny”. The Prime Minister also called for the Court for issue a “political clarification” regarding its decision. So far, the court has refused to do so on the grounds that “it does not need to tell the government how to govern”.

The Constitutional Court comprises thirteen judges. Ten judges are appointed by parliament – five by the ruling coalition, and five by the main opposition party – the Socialist Party (PS). The other three judges are co-opted from other courts according to a selection made by those judges already elected.

The government’s negative attitude towards the Court has enraged Portugal’s main opposition party, the Socialist Party (PS), which has called for the President’s to intervene to maintain “their regular functioning.” Smaller opposition parties such as the Left Bloc (BE) and the Portuguese Communist party (PCP) have called for early elections.

Meanwhile, the PS has itself become embroiled in a fierce leadership battle. Following its poor performance in the May European Parliament (EP) elections, the mayor of Lisbon, António Costa, has (once again) announced his readiness to run for the PS leadership, thereby challenging the incumbent party leader António José Seguro. While the PS won the most votes (31.47%) in the EP elections, the results were worse than expected. After three years of austerity, the PS just received 123,435 more votes than the ruling coalition (PSD/CDS-PP), which came second with 27.71% of the votes. The PS is to hold a leadership election on 28 September.

Amidst institutional tensions, opposition parties have been urging President Cavaco Silva to intervene to resolve the “political crisis”. So far, the President, affiliated to the ruling PSD party, has remained silent. Ironically, snap elections might work in favour of the ruling coalition. According to the latest polls, electoral support for the PS has further declined since the EP elections.

[1]The Constitutional Court declared unconstitutional two provisions of the 2012 budget law and four of nine austerity measures introduced in the 2013 national budget law. On 30 May 2014, the Court rejected another three measures proposed by the government in the 2014 national budget.

[2]The three measures included cuts to public sector wages, pensions and health allowances.