Notes on Portugal and Catalonia

Portugal:

The past 4th of October, Portugal held a General Election after four years of austerity under the rule of Passos Coelho, Prime Minister of the Social-Democratic Party (PSD) (which despite is name is Portugal’s Conservative Party). His coalition were first in votes, but having lost 30 seats were a long way off an absolute majority, mustering just 102 out of 230 seats in the national Parliament. The Socialist Party (PS), with its leader Antonio Costa obtained 86 seats. The two radical anti-austerity parties, the Left Bloc (BE) and the Portuguese Communist Party (PCP), obtained 19 and 17 seats respectively. Together, the PS, the BE and the PCE have 122 seats and therefore the majority in Parliament. After a couple of days of negotiations, all three agreed to form a left-wing government, an absolute premiere in Portugal, to overthrow Passos Coelho and reverse the austerity path. They told the President of the Republic, Aníbal Cavaco Silva, a former PSD Prime Minister, that they were ready to form government. However, in a surprising move, he decided not to give Antonio Costa the right to form a government. Instead, he asked Passos Coelho to do so arguing that it is always the ‘winner’ of the elections (whatever this means) who has the right to form government first and that he would not let the country send the wrong signal to foreign investors.

Last Tuesday, Passos Coelho minority government presented its program in the Parliament. It was automatically rejected by a rejection motion of the opposition and in consequence, the whole executive had to resign. It has been the shortest Portuguese government in democracy. Now three options are open for the President of the Republic. The first is to allow Antonio Silva and his PS to form government with the BE and the PCP. The second is to maintain the actual government until new elections in summer. The third, is to create a government with independent people lead by himself.

Catalonia:

The past 27th of September, the Catalans faced an autonomic elections. Normally, they would have voted to form the Parliament for the next four years, but it was indeed a de facto referendum on the independence of Catalonia. After a polarised and tense electoral campaign between pro and anti-independence parties, the results of the elections gave an absolute majority of seats in the Parliament to the separatists, but with 47.7% of the vote. The 72 seats won by the separatists, four more than the 68/135 required, were split between two parties. The Coalition Junts pel Sí (‘Together for the Yes’ to independence), formed by the right-wing nationalist ruling party Convergencia Democrática de Catalunya (CDC) and the social-democratic separatists party Catalan Republican Left (ERC), won 62 seats. The other 10 seats were won by a separatist, radical democratic and anti-capitalist party from the left-wing, the Popular Unity Candidacies (CUP). The 63 remaining seats are divided between four Spanish Parties: Ciudadanos, Popular Party, Socialist Party and Podemos. Ciudadanos is the leader of the opposition with 25 seats.

With the new parliament constituted, last week the two separatist parties voted in favour of an historical motion which set the path towards an independent state. The motion authorises the creation of a tax and social security authorities in the following thirty days and call for disobedience, stating that all the decisions of Spain’s Constitutional Tribunal will be ignored. The central government automatically brought the motion to the Spanish’ Constitutional Tribunal which ruled it out immediately. Furthermore, the Parliament had to elect a President for the Catalan Government last week as well. Artur Mas, President since 2010 and leader of CDC, was proposed to continue by Junts Pel Sí as President. However, the CUP doesn’t want Mas. They don’t like his liberal policies, nor the corruption scandals in which his party is involved. One of their campaign promises was not to support him. Thus, they have voted against him twice this week, together with the four Spanish parties, impeding Artur Mas’ re-election. As a result, either the CUP and Junts Pel Sí reach an agreement in two months’ time, or the Catalans will have to vote again.

My opinion on the two issues:

I obviously consider really good news the defeat of the pro-austerity government in Portugal. Aníbal Cavaco Silva should allow Antonio Costa to form government because he is legitimate to do so by the number of seats he has secured in parliament along with BE and PCP. The others two options would suppose a coup to democracy. If the left-wing government finally obtains power, it is clear that we won’t assist to a radical confrontation between Portugal and the foreign creditors as happened in Greece, but we are assisting to a shift in Europe. The pro-austerity bloc is fissuring, first in Greece, now in Portugal. A social Europe free of austerity is emerging slowly but surely.

Regarding Catalonia, the climate of confrontation between the central government and the Catalan government is incredibly high as both sides are committed to confrontation and it seems the country has reached a no-return point. Spain faces a General Election next 20th of December with the Catalan issue monopolising the whole political debate, instead of the economic problems Spain has faced in the last years. There are no easy solutions to this problem, but when two actors are so embattled, this is Mas and Rajoy as representatives of their respective nationalisms, the first step would be to get rid them to start a negotiations in better terms. It seems like Mas’ time is coming to an end. Hopefully Rajoy’s one will finish after the next general elections.

© Mario Cuenda García

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