Portugal: Neo-liberal candidate wins Presidential elections

Governing social democrats in crisis

Anibal Cavaco Silva, candidate for the ‘Liberal’ PSD party, and a former right wing prime-minister, won last Sunday’s presidential election in Portugal. He pledged to "pull Portugal out" of its economic slump and to end political instability, which has seen four prime ministers in four years and four finance ministers in 12 months.

For the first time, since the Portuguese Revolution in 1974, the candidate of the right won the presidential contest, gaining 50.6% of the votes. Turnout was 60%, in a country of nine million voters.

The government party, the Blairist-style Partido Socialista (PS) was defeated. It’s official candidate, Mário Soares, who is also a former prime minister and a former president, ended up in 3rd place, behind unofficial the PS candidate, MP Manuel Alegre, who got 20.7%, against 14,3% for Mário Soares. The Communist Party General-Secretary, Jerónimo de Sousa, won 8.6%, and the Left Bloc Co-ordinator, Francisco Louça, got 5.3%.

The winner, Cavaco Silva, is a representative of big business. When he was prime minister, from 1985 to 1995, he presided over a "modernisation" programme of cuts and attacks on workers’ conditions and rights. The ‘Support National Council’ he runs gathers the presidents of the main banks and economic forums in Portugal. His presidential campaign team included pro-capitalist politicians who demanded more ‘flexibility’ to dismiss workers, more cuts in social benefits, more privatisations and more restrictive labour laws. All of which, the social democratic PS government, led by José Sócartes, is doing. But the bosses want faster cuts. Given this, the election of Cavaco Silva is a setback for the workers’ movement.

PS divided

The fielding of two PS candidates reveals a serious dispute inside the ruling social democrats. The unofficial candidate won many more votes then the official one and this could lead to divisions in a party that won Legislative elections (parliamentary), just over a year ago, in February 2005, with an absolute majority.
The Communist Party, with strong roots amongst sections of the working class, particularly amongst blue collar workers, was able to maintain its share of votes. But the left nationalist approach of the Communist Party, which argues for "defence of Portuguese economy", will not develop a genuine, socialist and internationalist workers’ alternative to capitalism.

The left radical Left Bloc suffered a loss of support, compared to last year’s Legislative elections, when it got 8 MPs elected. Despite an electoral campaign that put forward some working class issues, like the need to tackle unemployment and the need to defend social security, this largely middle class organisation reduced its influence amongst the working class. Both the Communist Party and the Left Bloc failed to use the election campaign to build a socialist alternative to the social democratic PS government.

However, Portugal’s social crisis – with more than half a million workers unemployed, with more workers clashing with government over the latter’s attacks on the public sector, and with bosses refusing to recognise the right to unions’ collective bargaining – is likely to intensify class struggle. Portugal’s economy is in decline, way behind the rest of the EU for the last five years and expected to remain behind for the next two years. This decline is the fault of the capitalist system, yet the working class is asked to pay the price by the PS government. The Jorge Sampaio government introduced ‘labour reforms’, including plans to attack welfare benefits and increase the retirement age. The new president, Cavaco Silva, who will hold office for three years, pledged to "hold" the government to these anti-working class policies.

The CWI in Portugal will contribute to the struggle to build an independent, working class, socialist alternative, based on mass, collective action by workers and youth in defence of social, economic, political and cultural rights.

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January 2006