The World Today for January 28, 2022


A Contraption Called Democracy


In late 2019, the Atlantic magazine portrayed the government of Prime Minister António Costa in Portugal as a rare champion for the European left during a period when the far-right appeared ascendant throughout the continent. In Portuguese, people called the unlikely coalition between Costa’s Socialist Party, the Left Bloc and the Communist Party a “geringonça,” or a “contraption” that could break down at any time.

Recently, after succeeding in raising the minimum wage, lowering unemployment and trimming the budget deficit while ending austerity policies, the geringonça broke down when leftists and right-wing lawmakers voted down Costa’s proposed budget, Euronews reported. Portuguese President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa responded by calling a snap election that is now scheduled for Jan. 30, or two years ahead of schedule.

The Socialists’ leftist partners rejected the budget because they contended it hewed too closely to the anti-labor, anti-public spending, pro-free market mindset of European Union bureaucrats in Brussels as Portugal prepared to allocate billions of euros in coronavirus pandemic aid, explained Jacobin magazine.

Costa’s party is expected to garner the most votes in the snap election, but the latest opinion poll shows it only has the support of about 37 percent of the electorate. He has ruled out a coalition with the Left Bloc and the Communist Party. His rivals, the Social Democrats, meanwhile, have gained in recent polls, wrote Reuters. They’re now polling at 33 percent, or three points more than in mid-January.

The Socialists are running on a platform of stability, arguing that they can continue Portugal’s economic expansion as Europe emerges from the pandemic. But, in order to woo rivals to support his bid for another term as prime minister, Costa might need to join forces with parties like People-Animals-Nature, an animal rights group. Such an alliance, noted Politico, might hurt him among “hunting, fishing and bullfighting aficionados.”

In addition to painting him as a conservative in disguise, the prime minister’s critics have said his enacted anti-corruption legislation is weak and too complex, the Financial Times wrote, detailing how former Prime Minister José Socrates as well as judges, business leaders and others have been caught up in corruption scandals recently.

Costa has also drawn fire for permitting voters infected with Covid-19 to cast ballots, the Associated Press reported. Doctors argued that the rules would make it harder to convince folks to self-isolate in general if they are allowed to stand. Almost 90 percent of the country’s population is fully vaccinated. That’s one of the highest rates in the world, but infections have surged in recent weeks.

Costa faces trouble. But if democracy in Portugal is analogous to a contraption, the Portuguese should be proud to say it is still working.

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