A powerful leftist political surge is being witnessed in the recent Parliamentary elections of the European countries with Portugal being the latest to have a left coalition government after the centre right President Anibal Silva was forced to invite on 24 November the leader of the Portuguese Socialist Party Antonio Da Costa to form the coalition government along with the Left block and the Portuguese Communist Party. In 4 October general elections, the ruling Social Democratic Party led by the Prime Minister Pedro Coelho lost majority but he was allowed to form the Government though the Socialist Party came to an understanding with the Left block and the Communist Party to have an anti-austerity coalition government. The Left coalition had 122 seats as against 107 seats secured by the ruling combination in the 230 member house. President Silva tried his best to persuade the Socialists not to have truck with the communists but he failed and the Coelho government was defeated in the new Parliament by the combined strength of the left coalition. There was no alternative for President Silva other than inviting Costa to form the new government.
The victory of the Portuguese Left on the basis of the anti-austerity campaign is the second significant one after Greece where the left coalition Syriza won the parliamentary elections for the second time in September this year on the basis of its anti-austerity programme and its fight against the troika led by the European Union, European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund. There is however a small difference. Greece Communist Party is not having friendly relations with Syriza despite its consistent anti-troika stance where as the Portuguese Communist Party has agreed to be a part of the Socialist Party led coalition on the basis of an anti-austerity programme, keeping away its differences on the issues of Euro and NATO membership. For the PCP, right now, the priority is the removal of the centre right government and the installation of a government which will work for the welfare of the underprivileged.
In fact the PCP has shown its flexibility and statesmanship in the negotiations with the Socialist Party led by Antonio Costa by agreeing to a joint programme under which the Communists would defer their demand of Portugal leaving NATO and EU while the Socialist Party agreed to the programme of rolling back the anti-worker austerity programme imposed by the outgoing government. This position of the PCP has been welcomed by the other communist parties of Europe since in the wider context of fight against neo liberal policies in Europe, there is need for expanding the areas for united action and that can be based on the basis of intensifying the anti- austerity programme. The other allies of the left coalition like Green Party and the Left Block also agreed to this and that gives a big opportunity to the new coalition government of Portugal to spearhead the movement in Europe against the policies of troika in cooperation with the Greece govt led by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipirus.
Interestingly Antonio Costa, the former mayor of Lisbon is of origin from Goa and his family has got their house in Goa still. His father Orlando Costa was a famous writer in Portuguese and he was an active member of the Portuguese Communist Party. He was in jail during the Salazar dictatorship. Orlando died in 2006 and before that he used to visit his ancestral home in Goa on a regular basis. The new Prime Minister Costa is a mix of Gandhian ideas and Marxism of his late father and this should help him to having a close collaboration with the PCP for the advancement of the common people interests in Portugal under the left coalition. The new Socialist Prime Minister Antonio Costa named his cabinet on Wednesday itself after being called to form the government. The new occupant of the all important position of Finance Minister Mario Centeno has a big responsibility since he has to navigate Portuguese economy through the present difficulties by implementing the coalitions programme of protecting the interests of the workers and the employees by diluting the austerity package. One of the first African descended people to be appointed to a Portuguese cabinet Francisca van Dunem who was born in Angola and was involved in that country’s struggle for independence against Portugal, will be the new minister for justice.
The new prime Minister’s primary task is to negotiate with the troika on the austerity package of $83 billion which was decided by the previous government resulting in the layoffs of the state employees and cuts in wages, pensions and social services including health care and schools. This is the issue which led to the coming to power of Syriza in Greece and the Tsipirus government is having a hard time in keeping its commitment to its support base while continuing negotiations with the troika on the bailout terms.
Portugal like Greece has been a victim of the wrong policies of troika and despite its solid economic base in the last decade, the corrupt political leaderships of the ruling elite along with the bankers and the western financial institutions led the Portuguese economy to a disastrous path. The currency speculators drove up interest rates on borrowing beyond what the government could afford. The European Central Bank saw all the misdeeds and was in collusion with the ruling party and the rich businessmen. The net result was that Portugal was forced to swallow a bailout package that wrecked the economy and worsened the conditions of the poor. Unemployment went skyhigh and the young people like Greece, were forced to go abroad in search of jobs.
The left government in Portugal will be a big boost to the Greece government’s efforts to improve the bailout package. Now Portugal will also join that fight and soon Spain is going for general elections on December 20 and there is every possibility of a coalition government of left and anti-right forces including Podemos. Podemos chief Pablo Iglesias isa young bright leftist who has given a new dimension to the movement of the poor Spanish people against the corrupt rich politicians. Spain is agog with hopes and aspirations for a new future as the election campaign is picking up and hordes of young people are rallying behind Podemos and the Left determined to end the rule of the corrupt and the rich in Spain. Change is the buzzword in the cafes, universities and the football grounds of Madrid, Barcelona and Saville. The outcome of the elections in Greece and Portugal has further given a boost to the campaign of the left for their respective candidates for change.
It is a new Europe. More and more young people are joining politics. An unheard of confidence has grown the powerful- the ruling class can be challenged. Political scientist thirty-six year old Iglesias is changing the rules of campaigning in Spain. As a teenager, Iglesias was a member of of the Communist Youth in Vallecas, one of Madrid’s poorest districts. He still lives there today. He did his doctorate on Disobedience and anti-globalisation protests. Adored as a rock star in Spanish politics as also among the young in Europe, Iglesias showed his mettle in an extensive interview with the latest sensation Thomas Picketty where both of them discussed how to make Europe more humane and liveable for all. That is what is driving this Spanish leftist and that is also the driving force of the other leftists in Europe including the newly elected leader of the Labour Party in Parliament in Britain Jeremy Corbyn.