Portuguese President, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, and Prime Minister, Antonio Costa, at the Council of State, in Lisbon, November 9, 2023. PEDRO NUNES / REUTERS
The Portuguese President, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, decided on Thursday, November 9, to dissolve Parliament and call early legislative elections on March 10, 2024 to overcome the crisis caused by the resignation of the socialist Prime Minister, Antonio Costa, involved in a corruption scandal. corruption. He will nevertheless continue to lead the government until his replacement takes office.
The conservative president spoke after having heard for almost four hours, on the situation in the country, the members of the Council of State, a consultative body. Mr. Rebelo de Sousa chose to call elections, as demanded by the main opposition parties of the right and left, while the members of the Council of State did not seem to be in favor, he said. .
The choice of going through elections is also the option that a majority of Portuguese seem to share. Nearly two thirds are in favor, according to a survey carried out by the Aximage Institute and published Thursday in the daily Correio da Manha. The head of state, on the other hand, did not retain the solution defended by the socialists, who would have preferred to avoid elections by proposing a new prime minister who would govern thanks to the majority they have had in Parliament since 2022.
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“The country did not need to be called to the polls again” in “a context of great international uncertainty,” said Mr. Costa upon his arrival Thursday evening at the headquarters of the Socialist Party in Lisbon, adding that he had proposed the name of Mario Centeno, current governor of the Bank of Portugal and former finance minister, to head a new government. But the president considered this solution too “fragile”.
A new election welcomed by the right
The main right-wing opposition party, for its part, applauded the president’s decision. “It was inevitable to give the Portuguese a voice again” in order to “restore prestige, credibility and confidence in democratic institutions,” immediately reacted Luis Montenegro, president of the Social Democratic Party (PSD).
The decision to call elections in four months will also allow the government to adopt the state budget for next year, the final vote of which is scheduled for November 29. This will ensure “the essential economic and social stability” to the country, recalled the president.
The Prime Minister created a surprise by resigning on Tuesday, after his involvement in a corruption scandal. This affair has already led to the indictment of his infrastructure minister, Joao Galamba, and the arrest of his chief of staff, Vitor Escaria, who was dismissed on Thursday. The investigation relates in particular to suspicions of “corruption” and “influence peddling” in the awarding of concessions for the extraction of lithium and the production of green hydrogen, according to the prosecution. Suspected of having intervened “to unblock procedures” in the context of this affair, Antonio Costa will be “the subject of an independent investigation”. He denied having committed any illegality.
Coming to power in 2015, he was one of the rare socialists at the head of a European government. He took advantage of a favorable situation to unravel the austerity measures implemented by the right in exchange for an international rescue plan granted in 2011, while continuing to clean up public accounts. After his large electoral victory on January 30, 2022, which gave him an absolute majority supposed to guarantee the stability of his government, Mr. Costa saw his popularity plummet due to repeated scandals.
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