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Portugal: Voters turn to the left
"THIS IS a clear and extraordinary victory", was the first official comment from Partido Socialista (PS) Prime Minister, Josť Socrates, after the results of the Portuguese national elections on 27 September. However, the official triumphalism of Socrates hides what is actually more a defeat than a victory for the misnamed 'Socialist' Party.
Cedric Gerome, CWI
Despite the fact that the PS remains the first party in the assembly, the so-called "extraordinary" electoral result of the PS is actually the worst for this party in a general election since 1991, and followed a serious defeat for the party four months ago in the European elections.
Moreover, the PS, whose share of the vote dropped from 45% in 2005, to 36.6% this year, lost 25 seats and its previously held overall majority in parliament.
PS' policies during the last four years have been privatisations, the dismantling of workers' rights, increasing the age of retirement, erosion of social security, and savage attacks against public sector workers (such as the teachers who reacted with strikes and demonstrations of historic proportions), while readily granting big business billions in taxpayers' money.
However, the right-wing opposition party, the PSD (Partido Social Democrata), with a campaign concentrating on slashing public spending, enabled the PS to play on working people's fears of further cuts in services.
The abstention rate (40%) in these elections was the biggest since the 1974 revolution. This is symptomatic of the huge dissatisfaction felt by wide layers of people, not only with the policies applied by the last PS government, but also about the vicious neo-liberal policies defended in the electoral campaign by the PSD.
But these elections are also without doubt a turning point as far as the left is concerned. Together, the vote of the parties to the left of the PS, the Left Bloc and the CDU - a coalition made up of the PCP (Portuguese Communist Party) and the PEV (Portuguese Ecologist Party) - totalled about 18%.
This good result for the left, echoing that of the European elections, is an encouraging illustration of the fact that a growing layer of workers, young people and unemployed in Portugal are open to socialist ideas and are definitely looking for an anti-capitalist response to the looming crisis facing the country.
The Left Bloc (BE) is the party which gained the most in these elections, increasing its share of the vote to 9.9%, compared to 6.4% in 2005. The detailed figures show that 557,109 people decided to vote for the BE (nearly 200,000 more than four years ago).
The BE has now become the fourth political force in the country, standing at third in most of the biggest cities. This result saw the Left Bloc make a breakthrough in parliament, doubling its number of national deputies from eight to 16.
The CDU won 7.9% (+0.4%), 445,000 votes (+15,000) and 15 seats, one more than before. The results for the PCP were particularly strong in some of the most industrialised areas, reflecting its still strong base in traditional workers' areas. However, in the 1999 elections, the party got 487,000 votes. This shows that the party was not really able, in the course of the last ten years, to really enlarge its base of support.
Despite its old roots among the working class, the sectarian approach of the Communist Party's leadership has been a barrier to realising a real breakthrough amongst the new generations of young people and workers entering into action.
The left parties cannot give any support to a government carrying out anti-working class policies. They must fight for the development of the day-to-day struggles of workers and youth, and link them to the realisation of a real and consistent socialist programme.
A joint appeal from the Left Bloc and the PCP moving in this direction could have a very favourable and profound impact in the present situation.
The period of crisis facing capitalism, and its effects on the lives of workers and their families, will renew the fighting spirit and the tradition of struggle of the Portuguese working class, and lead to increased support for a genuine socialist alternative.
Full election report, see CWI website http://www.socialistworld.net/ eng/2009/10/0301.html
In The Socialist 7 October 2009:
War and occupation
Youth fight for jobs
Socialist Party news and analysis
Workplace news and analysis
Socialist Party feature
International socialist news and analysis