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Portugal's political crisis—what do people think?

 

After the Socialist Party (PS) had reached its agreements with the Portuguese Communist Party (PCP), Left Bloc and the Greens (PEV) on the basis of an anti-austerity alternative to the conservative Portugal Ahead coalition of the Social Democratic Party (PSD) and the Democratic and Social Centre-People's Party (CDS-PP), the web site Esquerda.net, interviewed a range of Portuguese people to get their comments. Translation by Dick Nichols.


'Cautiously hopeful' –Nuno Quadros (engineer, 45)

I have to say that on election night [October 4] I felt let down when I found out that the PSD-CDS coalition had won. All that protest--in the end for what? Sometimes, I confess, I don't understand the Portuguese. I hope that this agreement is solid so that we can have a government that lasts the whole legislature and puts an end to so much suffering and despair. I know that will be difficult, but if there's the will we'll get there. Personally, I have not been the most affected by the crisis but I know people who have lost a lot, almost everything. Contrary to what some say, Antonio Costa is an intelligent type--nothing has forced him to come up with this government. There has been a lot of talk about stable government and now, for many, it doesn't matter any more. I hope the President [Cavaco Silva], just for once, is up to his job and allows this government to take  office. That's why I am—still--cautiously hopeful.

'I just didn't want them to take away my livelihood'--Maria Conceição (retiree, 73)

It's all very strange. The elections were over a month ago and still we have no government. I don't know if it will be worth the effort of trying to fix up what's already so rotten. My son who lives in Canada is always telling me to go there, because Portugal is in the hands of a bunch of loonies. I just wanted those who run things to take steps to improve people's lives. I've been around for a long time and I have never seen so much misery as today. And then on television they say everything's OK, I don't see it. That girl [Catarina Martins] there from the... what's it called? The Bloc? Yes, the Left Bloc, They should pay attention to her. I like listening to her. She defends the poor, pensioners like me. But she's still very young, isn't she? Look, let's see. I've been poor: now I just didn't want them to take away my livelihood. I worked hard to raise my children and I just don't want to have to live from hand to mouth before passing on.

'If it's just to improve people's lives, they will have my support'--Rui Pereira (unemployed, 50)

Don't ask me the impossible, that is, to believe in politicians. Look, I didn't even vote. My wife is always telling me I should vote because otherwise others will choose for me. But choose what? There are jobs, but the good jobs are for them. I've been unemployed for three years, my daughter manages to get work from time to time and has even done a computer course. How are they going to fix that up? Tell me that. The other one [former SPD prime minister Passos Coelho] also said that with him the sacrifices would end and then we saw what happened. Who can guarantee me that the same thing won't happen again? Some steal and the rest of us, if necessary, die of hunger. I'm sorry if I'm not telling you what you maybe wanted to hear but I don't find any of them convincing. Still, if this time just for once it [the agreement] is to improve people's lives, they will have my full support.


'No country can progress on the basis of poverty and inequality'--Sonia Andrade (designer, 37)

"There are many differences between the parties [of the parties of the left] but I don't see that they are insurmountable if the country's interests are to come first. The PSD-CDS coalition won but without a majority and since they failed to make an agreement with the other forces aren't in a position to continue to rule, and so have to go into opposition. So there are no grounds for so much hysteria and drama. They talk about  "coups" and "opportunism" , which is nonsense. In other countries these sort of situations take place and no one goes in for this sort of lunacy. Maybe it's because there are many interests hidden behind this and they are afraid of losing their room to maneuver. The recent years have been horrible, everything is worse. No country can progress on the basis of poverty, unemployment and inequality. Few young people think of staying in Portugal, and the others will be battling to see if they can survive. Is that the future? I'm not afraid of the Bloc and the communists. They are people like everyone else, with their ideas and their values. I have hope in this alternative solution for government. I hope  that the agreement is strong and doesn't give in to the climate of fear that some are already working to spread around.

'The PS should go into opposition'--Antonio de Sousa (lawyer, 63)

I have voted for the PS since the first elections [after the dictatorship] and I believe that what António Costa is about to do is suicide, not only for the party but also for the country. An understanding with parties of the ideological characyer of the Left Bloc and the communists isn't possible. Portuguese democracy was built on the basis of the fight by the PS and others, but above all by the socialists led by Mario Soares, who fought against the communists who wanted to make Portugal a satellite country of the former Soviet Union. Can you imagine where we would be if they (the communists) had won in 1975? I know that the world has changed a lot since then, but the PCP hasn't changed in the least. It lives in a world that no longer exists and that can be very dangerous for the future of our country. In my opinion, the PS should have gone into opposition and worked constructively with the PSD and the CDS, in this way preparing itself for future elections. The PS general secretary should not want to be prime minister at any price. Attitudes of this kind degrade political life and that's why abstention has increased at such a worrying rate. Europe is watching us. And the image that we convey to them is pretty unedifying. We have been living in liberty for over 40 years but it seems to me we have learned little from that.

'A step toward recovering dignity'--Bruno Ferreira (public servant, 33)

We need to find other solutions and that's why this accord has my full support. Portuguese democracy has many weaknesses that need fixing. After so many years it is inconceivable that we have not yet succeeded in eliminating poverty levels that should embarrass anyone who has been in power. Debates about  increases of €10 to €15 in wages of between €500 or €600 are, in my opinion, shameful. I know that the agreement is timid, but it's still preferable to take small steps rather than continue to have a government that only knows how to conjugate the verb “to cut” in everything that has to do with  essential services, namely health, education and social support. That's what Passos Coelho did and the results are plain to see. Last summer I went on holiday to Holland and the friends of mine who are more more attuned to these situations asked me several times how the Portuguese can make do with very low incomes without rebelling. I am always left without an answer to this sort of question, because despite living here I also find it hard to find an explanation for such apathy.

I had high hopes when SYRIZA won the elections in Greece and so I participated  in nearly all the solidarity initiatives that took place in Lisbon. In the end, I got hit with a bucket of icy water.

These types talk a lot about markets, deficits and debts and forget people. That's why we need to change all this. I look at this agreement as a small step that can gradually recover what has been stolen from us. Because only in this way will we manage to regain our dignity. I just hope I don't get disappointed again.

'The majority no longer support austerity'--Luis Duarte (businessman, 39)

I would like them to tell me where it is written that the parties to the left of the PS can't enter into agreements with a view to forming a governmental majority, as is happening now.

The coalition of the right is showing the same arrogance and lack of feeling for democracy that it demonstrated while in government. Cavaco Silva, regardless of the decision he is to take, will go down in history as someone who never broke free of his party connections [as a former PSD prime minister], in this way perverting the functions belonging to the role of  President.

Some commentators and journalists have also been showing a bias incompatible with the exercise of that profession, which in a democratic regime should not deviate from telling the truth. In this way they have covered up the game of the right wing and have opened up the chest of memories so as to stir up the spectres of a past that is simply that--past.

Speculation, lies and insults are the weapons they use to discredit an agreement that aims to be an alternative to the failed policies of Coelho and [CDS leader Paolo] Portas. I ask myself: what are they scared of?

Although they have given victory to the coalition, I am convinced that most Portuguese no longer support austerity that always hits the same people: a closed circle and as such without any end in sight. This agreement may not be ideal but in the circumstances we're living in it represents a hope. A hope for all of us and especially for those who have been pushed into the limbo of unemployment and growing poverty, at the mercy of charity policies and as such to the liking of the government and of some organisations that have turned poverty into a business.

'If the parties were the same, democracy would be unnecessary'--Daniel Ramos (final year student, Communication Sciences, 24)

I finish my course this year and like most of my colleagues I am thinking of leaving Portugal because the job opportunities are very slim here.

Nonetheless, this agreement opens up some expectations because it aims to end austerity and so restore employment. If that happens, I would prefer to stay in Portugal and I know that many of my friends who have already left would also end up coming back eventually.

I'm young, and so I don't know much about the fights that these parties [of the left] have had with each other. I know they are different and will continue to be so. For me that is positive because if people were all alike we would have no choice. Which is meaningless in a democracy.

I heard the speech of Cavaco Silva [on October 22] and I think that it was very negative. A president should not adhere to any party. He must above all distance himself from them because he represents the whole country. But Cavaco is PSD and was never neutral in his decisions.

I belong to a generation that has been apolitical. Although not belonging to any party, I am aware of reality and therefore have a very negative reading of the PSD-CDS government. They chastised the people a lot, and accused them of being responsible for the financial problems of the country. At university, I have colleagues who had to interrupt or abandon their studies because they have no means to continue their course. My father was unemployed for a year, but despite the difficulties we have had, we have managed to hold on.

The ideology underlying these policies has a very negative economic and social impact, since it favours individualism at the expense of solidarity. And in the end, those who have greater economic capacity “win” and the rest are excluded. The life culture they are trying to instill in young people today passes through overvaluing ultra-eogism, as if this were a virtue and an unavoidable path to our personal and professional fulfillment. Maybe because of this they have mistreated our older people, because they are no longer productive. My grandmother, who worked very hard for many years came to our house one day and cried a lot because they had cut off her retirement pay. Which is unfair, isn't it?

If being against this sort of society is being on the left, then you put me down as being on that side. And  welcome to the agreement which means that I and many others do not have to pack up and go abroad in search of a decent life.

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