Portuguese politics have become very interesting in recent weeks. The parliamentary elections of October 4th saw a shift to the left in society that reflects the discontent and radicalisation sowed by the crisis of capitalism in one of the countries that has been hardest hit by it.
The main left-wing forces – the Socialist Party (PS), the Bloco de Esquerda (BE) and the Communist Party (PCP) – together command a handsome majority, whilst the right-wing coalition Portugal à Frente (PàF, formed by the two main right-wing parties, PSD and CDS) saw its support plummet. But the post-election period has seen an attempt from the right and the whole establishment to misrepresent the results and prevent the formation of a left-supported government.
The crisis of capitalism in Portugal
With public debt soaring above 90% of GDP, the bankrupt Portuguese government of Sócrates (PS) was bailed out by the troika (the European Commission, the IMF and the ECB) in 2011, binding the country to severe austerity measures: slashed public spending, a far-reaching privatisation programme, a “reform” of labour regulations to increase flexibility, and ‘a compromise to incentivise private investors to remain in the country’. Upon taking office in 2011 however, the incumbent Prime Minister Passos Coelho, a callous and stone-faced right-winger, promised to ‘go beyond’ the demands of the troika managing to privatise and cut even more than the troika was asking for. Although the bailout programme was officially completed in 2014, austerity has continued and the country is still in the throes of the capitalist crisis, with ever-increasing public debt standing at 130% of GDP, and growth last year at an anaemic 0.9%. In fact, Passos Coelho was the first PM to oversee an overall shrinking of the country’s economy over his term in office, as GDP fell by 4.5% to levels last seen 15 years ago. At the same time, inequality is amongst the highest in OECD, with the richest 10% owning 25.9% of the country’s wealth, and the poorest 10% only 2.6%.
The austerity measures directly hit the working conditions and standard of living of the Portuguese working class and youth. Nowadays, one in four Portuguese citizens lives in poverty. The unemployment rate stands at 12.4%, and 31.8% amongst the youth. But even these bleak numbers have been hotly contested, with economic researchers placing the real unemployment figure closer to at least 20% or even 25%. This understatement is the result of dodgy statistical cosmetics, as the official figures hide the realities of many discouraged workers who have given up looking for jobs, of part-time and occasional workers looking for full-time employment, of unemployed people in training programs or temporary government-funded job schemes, and of the many who have emigrated. Indeed, in light of the situation, it is not surprising that Portugal has experienced a mass exodus: between 2011 and 2014, almost half a million mostly (but not exclusively) young people left the country.
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