Portugal Austerity Vote May Cause Government Collapse

Defeat of budget measures could force country into bailout

The minority Socialist government of Portugal may collapse if austerity measures are defeated in a vote later on Wednesday, as is currently expected.

The loss of support from opposition Social Democrats, who had previously supported the measures, may have doomed the government just before the beginning of a European summit meeting set to begin on Thursday. The government had hoped to have support in place for the plan prior to the start of the European Union (EU) meeting, which will discuss, among other things, a strengthened rescue fund.

Reuters reported that Jose Socrates, Portugal’s prime minister, has said he will resign if the vote goes against the measures, which cut state spending and pensions; all the opposition parties have proposed resolutions against them. Francisco Assis, parliament’s Socialist bench leader, was quoted in the report saying after a late-night meeting of his party, "If all these positions that now seem irreversible are confirmed, then yes, [the government will step down]."

Assis added, "The prime minister does not want to resign, but he cannot govern against his convictions." He placed blame on the Social Democrats, who are ahead in opinion polls and who are committed to reducing the budget deficit. The Socialists have 97 seats out of 230 parliamentary positions, and need at least 116 to pass the austerity plan. However, with all the opposition parties opposed, they cannot rely on any additional votes to push it through.

In addition, the Social Democrats are now talking about a snap election, which the nation’s constitution says can happen at the earliest 55 days after the president calls for one. In the meantime, the outgoing government would remain in place as a caretaker, its powers limited, and that is where concern lies now.

Antonio Costa Pinto, a political analyst, was quoted as saying that a caretaker government would have its hands tied. He went on, "Although a caretaker government cannot take major autonomous initiatives, it could take a decision on resorting to aid if it is backed by parliament."

Whether rejection of additional austerity measures leads to a bailout or not, austerity is not popular in Portugal. Protests and demonstrations against it have marked the past couple of weeks, and a train strike on Wednesday caused traffic chaos as commuters were forced behind the wheel around Lisbon.

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