Portugal’s President, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, announced on Thursday that early elections will be organized on March 10, 2024 after Prime Minister António Costa, who is facing an investigation into corruption allegations, announced his resignation.
To overcome the crisis in Portugal, the president chose to return to the ballot boxes. Two days after the resignation of Socialist Prime Minister Antonio Costa, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa decided, on Thursday, November 9, to call early legislative elections.
The conservative head of state announced during a televised speech: “I have chosen to dissolve the Council of the Republic and call for elections on March 10, 2024.”
The decision to call elections within four months will also allow the government to adopt the state budget for next year, the final vote on which is scheduled for November 29. The president noted that this would ensure the “indispensable economic and social stability” of the country.
Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa also thanked Antonio Costa for his “willingness” to continue leading the government until a new prime minister takes office.
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After listening for about four hours, he spoke about the situation in the country to members of the Council of State, an advisory body.
He said that Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa chose to call elections, as demanded by the main opposition parties of the right and left, while members of the Council of State did not appear to support this.
The option of holding elections is also the one that the majority of Portuguese seem to prefer. Nearly two-thirds are in favor, according to a survey conducted by the Aximig Institute and published on Thursday in the Correio da Manhá daily newspaper.
A decision that socialists regretted and was welcomed by the right
On the other hand, the head of state did not adhere to the solution advocated by the Socialists, who would have preferred to avoid elections by proposing a new prime minister who would rule thanks to the majority they have enjoyed in Parliament since 2022.
Upon his arrival on Thursday evening at the Socialist Party headquarters in Lisbon, Antonio Costa said that “the country did not need to call the ballot boxes again” in a “context of great international uncertainty,” adding that he proposed choosing Mario Centeno, the current governor of the Bank of Portugal and minister. The former finance minister, to head the new government. But the president considered this solution very “fragile.”
Socialist leaders are scheduled to meet on Thursday evening at the party’s headquarters in Lisbon to discuss the succession of Antonio Costa, who will not seek a new term as Secretary-General of the Socialist Party.
For its part, the main right-wing opposition party praised the president’s decision.
Luis Montenegro, head of the Social Democratic Party, responded immediately, saying: “It was inevitable to give the Portuguese a voice again” in order to “restore prestige, credibility and confidence in democratic institutions.”
Costa will be subject to an independent investigation
The Prime Minister caused a surprise by his resignation on Tuesday, after his involvement in a corruption scandal. The case has already led to the indictment of Infrastructure Minister João Galamba and the arrest of his chief of staff, Vitor Escaría, who was sacked on Thursday.
The investigation relates in particular to suspicions of “corruption” and “influence peddling” in granting concessions for lithium extraction and green hydrogen production, according to the prosecution.
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On suspicion of intervening to “open proceedings” in the context of this case, Antonio Costa will be “the subject of an independent investigation.”
Antonio Costa, one of the rare socialists at the head of a European government, denied any violation of the law.
Upon coming to power in 2015, he took advantage of the opportunity to expose the austerity measures implemented by the right in exchange for an international bailout granted in 2011, while continuing to clean up public accounts.
After his huge electoral victory on January 30, 2022, which gave him an absolute majority that was supposed to guarantee the stability of his government, António Costa saw his popularity decline due to repeated scandals.
With Agence France-Presse