Portuguese President Anibal Cavaco Silva said he will not allow a coalition of left parties to form a government, despite the fact that they won an outright majority in October 4 parliamentary elections - on grounds it would "violate" existing commitments to the European Union.
The directly elected president said on October 22 that he gave incumbent right-wing Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho the mandate to form a minority government, TeleSUR English reported on October 23.
He did so on the grounds such a government would fall in line with the policy of austerity imposed on Portugal by the "Troika" of the European Union, European Commission and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
President Passos Coelho said: “In 40 years of democracy, no government in Portugal has ever depended on the support of anti-European forces, that is to say forces that campaigned to abrogate the Lisbon Treaty, the Fiscal Compact, the Growth and Stability Pact, as well as to dismantle monetary union and take Portugal out of the euro, in addition to wanting the dissolution of NATO.”
He argued that it was too risky to let the radical Left Bloc or the Portuguese Communist Party (PCP) come close to power, saying the country's right wing would protect austerity measures the left had threatened to overturn.
The anti-austerity Left Bloc, formed in 1999 as a coalition of far left groups, were the big winners in the October 4 poll. It's vote almost doubled from 5.2% to 10.2%, becoming the third biggest parliamentary party with 19 seats.
The United Democratic Coalition (CDU), made up of the PCP and the Green Ecological Party (PEV), won 8.3% and 17 seats.
The traditionally social democratic Socialist Party (PS), one of the two main parties to share power since democracy was restored in 1974, won 32.3% and 82 seats. This left the PS - which initiated Troika-mandated austerity when it governed in 2010 - short of a majority in its own right in the 230-seat partliament, but opened the prospects for a PS-Left Bloc-CDU coalition.
Coelho's right-wing coalition won only 38% of the vote, not enough to form a single-party government.
The president's decision outraged PS leader Antonio Costa, who called the president's action a “grave mistake” that threatened the country's stability.
“It is unacceptable to usurp the exclusive powers of parliament,” he said.
Cavaco Silva said it was now up to lawmakers in parliament to decide on the new government's program, which must be presented in 10 days. TeleSUR English said if it was rejected in parliament, the government will collapse.
The left parties said they would reject the program given that control a majority of seats.
Critics portrayed the president's move as an assault on democracy.
“Democracy must take second place to the higher imperative of euro rules and membership,” wrote Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, in the London Telegraph.
Portugal returned to democracy in 1974 after nearly 50 years of authoritarianism.