Portugal - Early Elections Called after Socialist Defeat

The defeat of the Portuguese socialists in the last round of local elections on December 18 has provoked the resignation of A. Guterres (the Portuguese Prime Minister and leader of the Socialist Party), and the calling of early elections in March. The main reason for the defeat has been Guterres' right-wing policies. This was not what the Portuguese workers had voted for.

The defeat of the Portuguese socialists in the last round of local elections on December 18 has provoked the resignation of A. Guterres (the Portuguese Prime Minister and leader of the Socialist Party), and the calling of early elections in March. The main reason for the defeat has been Guterres' right-wing policies. This was not what the Portuguese workers had voted for.

The main bourgeois party won by a small margin. In Lisbon they won just 856 more votes than the ruling Socialist-Communist coalition which held power in the Capital. In Oporto, in coalition with other bourgeois parties, the right-wing CDS/PP won by 5,000 votes, but if we take into account the 45,634 votes for the Socialists and add the 12,425 votes for the Communists the right coalition could have been defeated. In fact, adding up all votes in a national scale, the right-wing parties got 2,325,364 and the Left got 2,382,056. So the left parties, taken together, actually received more votes.

What makes the defeat even more painful and traumatic is the fact that the main losses occurred in the big cities (including some where they had been in control of local government since the 1974 revolution). Another feature is the scale and suddenness of the defeat. Two years ago, in the Parliamentary elections, the Socialist Party was just one seat short of an absolute majority. In the 2001 presidential elections Jorge Sampaio still won by a big majority against the PPD/PSD candidate, although with a very low turnout of around 50%.

Why did the SP lose?

The main reason for the defeat has been Guterres' right-wing policies. The Socialist Party had won the elections thanks to a massive support from the working class and important layers of the peasants and the petit-bourgeois strata, who thought that their situation would improve under the new government.

But in fact the Socialist Party has carried on with the same policies as the former PSD government, with privatisations and cuts in public spending. Some Socialist leaders have been mixed up in corruption scandals. The most notorious of these was the collapse of the Entre-os-Rios bridge, which was a terrible tragedy. Reports about the ruinous state of the bridge and the need for investments were ignored.

Moreover, Guterres blocked a project to change the abortion law, although he enjoyed a big majority in Parliament, and this was an initiative of the Communists (PCP) and the Young Socialists - the youth wing of his own Party. This government also carried out other policies which were completely unworthy of a supposedly left-wing government.

The accumulated outrage against the economic and social policies of the government came to the surface in the last election, and was further sharpened by the effects of the global slump that is hitting Portugal harder than any other country in the EU. In the last few months, the level of consumer spending has been falling, while inflation has soared and unemployment figures are rising. The disposable income of the working and middle classes is rapidly shrinking.

A significant section of the middle class which voted Socialist before did not turn out to vote this time because they were disillusioned, or else they voted for the right (the PSD received all the right-wing votes, leaving the CDS/PP with a very poor result in areas where they stood on their own). Abstention is growing, especially in areas where the PSD normally have big majorities.

The discontent with the Socialist Party has, however, not been translated into support for any other party on the Left The C.P. vote either stays as it is or else tends to go down slightly. It now stands at 550,247, or 10.6 per cent. It has lost Evora, the provincial capital of the traditional C.P. stronghold of Alentejo, and only won one important city - Setubal. The Left Bloc (an electoral front made up of small left groups and progressive intellectuals) only got 61,000 votes (1.3 per cent).

The big majority of the working class continues to vote for the S.P. which won the majority in the working class and poor districts (where this is not the case, it is the C.P. that predominates). Nevertheless, among the traditional S.P. voters, there has been a significant increase in abstentionism. It is likely that some politically backward sections of workers voted for the PDS, although, judging by the electoral statistics, most either abstained or voted reluctantly for the S.P. The growing mood of scepticism is a warning to the Left.

Fight for socialist policies!

The electoral defeat has caused shock waves inside the Socialist Party (PSP). For the time being, fearful of the prospect of an imminent election, the different elements in the Party leadership have patched up an agreement to prevent an open crisis. They have named Ferro Rodrigues - a very popular minister, who was responsible for the minimum wage - as a "consensus" candidate. The media have described him as part of the "social-democratic" wing of the Party as opposed to the right-wing led by Jaime Gama (minister of foreign affairs) or Guterres himself. Despite these moves, a crisis is inevitable sooner or later.

Ferro has made some gestures in the direction of the left wing , but at the same time he says that in order that the Socialists could link up with the Portuguese Communist Party again, the PCP must "modernise" - changing its view on issues like European integration. Within the PCP, the right wing (which is a small minority at present) is pressing for "moderation" both in the Party's programme and in its propaganda. In reality, this move to the right has already been begun under the present general secretary, Carlos Carvalhas. Now they want to go much further.

In fact, a further urn to the right would be a disaster for both the Socialists and Communists. The facts speak for themselves. Guterres carried out right wing policies during the last six years and now we see the result: only defeat and disillusionment. The only way to mobilise and enthuse the working people and to win over the middle classes is by fighting for a genuine socialist programme.

This is the only way to solve the people's problems, implementing an increase social expenditure, a proper minimum wage, ending casual work, improving the health and education system. The way forward lies through the renationalisation of the land and industries privatised in the last period, and the nationalisation of the banking system under democratic workers' control in order to offer low interest credits and loans to farmers and shopkeepers. With this programme it would be possible to unite and mobilise the left and set in motion a profound transformation of society.

January 2002

See also the Spanish version: Portugal, tras la derrota socialista en las municipales y la convocatoria de elecciones anticipadas