In spite of a well-financed scare campaign, and a not very subtle effort by the European Union to load the dice in the October 4 Portuguese elections, the ruling right-wing Forward Portugal coalition lost its majority in Parliament, left parties garnered more than 50 percent of the vote, and the austerity policies that have paralyzed the country for four years took a major hit.
Along with last month’s Greek election, it was two in a row for the European left.
While most the mainstream media touted the election as a victory for Prime Minister Passos Coelho’s Social Democratic Party/Popular Party coalition, the rightist alliance dropped from 50.4 percent in the 2011 election to 38.4 percent, losing 28 seats. In contrast, the center-left Socialist Party picked up 11 seats, the Communist/Green alliance 1 seat, and the Left Bloc 13 seats. All in all, the left went from 40 percent of the vote in 2011 to a little over 50 percent in 2015.
There are still four seats to be determined by the votes of expatriates, but even if all four went to Forward Portugal, it would still be short of a majority. And given that a flood of young, mostly professional, Portuguese fled the austerity regime inflicted on the country by the “Troika”—the European Central Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the European Commission—those votes may well end up in the left’s column.
The Parliament has 230 seats. The right now controls 104 and the left 121. A majority is 116 seats.
The surprise in the election was that the Left Bloc more than doubled its representation, in spite of the fact that there were three left parties vying for voters.
The right ran endless images of poor Greek pensioners lining up at banks, and warned voters that voting for the left could result in the kinds draconian measures the EU took out on Greece, but the scare tactics didn’t work.
The Troika also eased up on Portugal before the election, exactly the opposite approach it took in Greece, even though Portugal’s debt is still high and its growth is anemic—1.6 percent this year. Unemployment has come down from a high of 17 percent, but it is still 12 percent, and over 30 percent among youth—those that haven’t emigrated. Out of a population of 10.4 million, some 485,000 young people emigrated from 2011 to 2014.
In what one left-wing party member told the Financial Times was an “unseemly interference” in the election, Standard & Poor’s upgraded Portugal’s credit rating just two weeks before the election. S&P has long been accused of politicizing its credit ratings.