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A delicate balance



October 09, 2019 00:02 IST

Updated:


October 09, 2019 01:14 IST



October 09, 2019 00:02 IST

Updated:


October 09, 2019 01:14 IST


more-in

Portugal needs to find a way of boosting growth without affecting welfare measures

Portugal’s centre-left Socialists (PS) are eyeing a second consecutive term in office after securing about 37% of the vote in Sunday’s elections. But the rigours of putting together a coalition all over again may have sobered the sense of victory for Prime Minister António Costa, who leads a minority government. The Socialists have emerged as the largest party, unlike in 2015, when the centre-right Social Democrat (PSD)’s failure presented them with an opportunity to forge a coalition. The Socialists’ main coalition partner, the anti-capitalist Left Bloc (BE) has held on to its seats, while the Communist party (PCP) has lost a few. The new parliamentary arithmetic appears advantageous to the Socialists, but it may not always convert into greater political leverage. When the coalition took shape among the three parties some weeks after the 2015 elections, it was described as “geringonça”, or an ‘unlikely contraption’. The two left-wing parties backed a minority PS government only on the latter’s promise to end the austerity policies of the centre-right administration.

This time around, conditions are markedly different, with unemployment around 6%, and a positive outlook from credit ratings agencies. Mr. Costa has committed to maintaining fiscal discipline and a surplus budget to cushion Lisbon from the risk of a global recession. While the prospect of a zero per cent budget deficit may hold some appeal in European Union circles, the Socialists’ allies are concerned about Mr. Costa’s evident shift in stance. The BE has not guaranteed support for Mr. Costa, declined to accept ministerial positions, and instead offered backing based solely on specific issues. The party has said that it would advocate for an increase in the minimum wage, roll-back of pension cuts, investments to combat global warming and other labour legislation. Mr. Costa, possibly expecting a more assertive BE, had cautioned voters against the risk of political instability — drawing comparison with the impasse in neighbouring Spain — if the Socialists were not handed a majority. Now that the polls are behind, the Prime Minister has the delicate task of negotiating with the same allies in the weeks ahead. A guarantee to eschew the path of punitive austerity could go some way to assuage the concerns of the BE and the PCP. Mr. Costa should also address the charge that despite his anti-austerity drive, several sectors are woefully in need of public investment. His priority regarding the need for a stable government is understandable. The political deadlock he had warned of after Sunday’s elections must be averted at any cost. Mr. Costa seems best placed for the task, going by the plaudits he has won for balancing the need for growth and fiscal rectitude.

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Printable version | Oct 9, 2019 3:17:55 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/a-delicate-balance/article29620833.ece

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