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Portugal’s leftists agree alliance in threat to new govt

Published on 06/11/2015

Portugal's centre-right government looked doomed Friday as the main opposition Socialists formed an unprecedented alliance with the far left and appeared set to take over, putting the country on a path to ending austerity.

The prospect of a new government backed by the Left Bloc — which is close to Greece’s anti-austerity Syriza — and the radical Communists raised concern in Europe, even though the Socialist Party (PS) has insisted that “Portugal will respect its international commitments” whoever takes the reins.

Together, the Socialists (PS), Communists and their allies hold 122 seats out of 230 in Portugal’s parliament — giving them the majority needed to push through a vote on Tuesday which would force the government to resign.

“The conditions are in place to bring down the right-wing coalition government and for the Socialist Party to form a government, present its programme and take office,” the Communist Party said in a statement.

The centre-right coalition of Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho won an October 4 general election, despite its unpopular austerity budgeting, but lost the outright majority it had enjoyed since 2011.

The Communists’ statement came hours after the Left Bloc, allied to Greece’s ruling anti-austerity Syriza party, agreed its own pact with the Socialists (PS).

“Negotiations with the Socialist Party have ended and the conditions (are) met for a leftist agreement aiming to protect jobs, salaries and pensions,” a statement on the Left Bloc’s website said.

– ‘A historic mistake’ –

The Socialists, who came second in the election, are seeking to oust the government in order to end the austerity drive undertaken by Lisbon in return for an international bailout in 2011.

The PS has called a party meeting for late Sunday to discuss its position, ahead of a parliamentary debate on the government’s programme the following day.

If the Socialists, the Left Bloc and the Communists join forces on a motion to reject the government’s programme in a vote on Tuesday, the government will be forced to resign.

President Anibal Cavaco Silva will have the last word on which party gets to form a new government if required. So far he has appeared reluctant to see a government of the far left emerge.

The Left Bloc, founded in 1999, said it agreed to back the Socialists to “defend jobs, pay and pensions,” after years of austerity.

It is the first such alliance since the birth of a democratic Portugal in 1974, and had seemed unimaginable just weeks ago due to the differences between the various leftist groups.

The move has split the Socialists, with European parliamentarian Francisco Assis leading those opposed to a left-wing alliance which would, according to him, be “a historic mistake”.

Socialist leader Antonio Costa said Friday he would serve in opposition or in government; “I will be where I’m needed; either in government, which is the natural place for the election winner, or on the opposition benches.”