El aliado portugués

Cable sobre el panorama político portugués

"Los principales partidos están desgarrados por disensos internos", observan los diplomáticos estadounidenses

Date:2009-06-02 10:02:00
Source:Embassy Lisbon
DE RUEHLI #0289/01 1531002
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C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 LISBON 000289


E.O. 12958: DECL: 04/21/2019


b, d)

1. (C/NF) Summary. This is a primer on each of Portugal's
major parties and what is driving them for the election
season, plus specific expectations for the June 7 European
elections. Portugal has three elections this year; the June
7 elections for the European Parliament, plus legislative and
municipal elections later this autumn. Election season is in
full swing, but major parties are riven with internal
dissent. None of them is campaigning effectively and voter
apathy is the major issue, as the European Parliament is
divorced from Portuguese daily life. It appears that only a
quarter of eligible voters will likely turn out June 7, and
they will be voting for lists comprised of party insiders
that inspire no one. Thus, the European elections will not
be a litmus test for national elections or even a gauge of
the national mood. The far left will likely pick up a few
seats in the European Parliament, but ruling Socialist Prime
Minister Socrates is most concerned about maintaining his
absolute majority in Portugal's parliament. End summary.

2. (C/NF) Like many around the world, the Portuguese were
enthralled by the U.S. election drama of 2008. One of the
themes repeated endlessly in Portuguese commentary was
admiration for the primary process in which voters winnow the
candidate field through a succession of open plebiscites. In
Portugal, however, the desire for a primary process has
degenerated into internecine warfare within each party, such
that none appear to have a strategy designed to win under
Portugal's parliamentary party list system.

3. (C/NF) The June 7 elections for the European Parliament
mark the first of Portugal's three elections this year.
Portugal's legislative and local elections are expected in
the autumn, by the end of October at the latest, with the
dates to be determined. Editorialists are already opining
about what the European elections will mean for Portugal's
national elections. Indeed, political discourse is entirely
focused on issues more appropriate to national elections,
such as crime, unemployment, and infrastructure. The picture
is complicated because this year's national elections will be
the first to reserve one-third of the legislative seats for
women. Also fueling internal bickering is that the
Portuguese delegation to the European Parliament will shrink
from 24 seats to 22 following institutional reforms, ensuring
that at least two Portuguese politicians are going to have to
give up the good life in Brussels and Strasbourg.

4. (C/NF) But European elections will tell us little about
the national mood because so few people are expected to take
part. Turnout at the European elections is traditionally
quite low in Portugal, and it is unlikely to match the 2004
turnout of 38 percent. None of the parties has engaged in
major publicity campaigns; billboards are scarce and vague in
message and few grassroots efforts are underway. Further
depressing this year's turnout is that voting will be held on
a holiday weekend.

5. (U) This is a primer on each of Portugal's major parties
and what is driving them for the election season, plus
specific expectations for the June 7 European elections.

6. (C/NF) All signs ought to be positive for the ruling
Socialists, but one would not know it by listening to them.
Prime Minister Socrates took over a dysfunctional government
apparatus and an economy in poor shape when the PS won
parliament in 2005. Socrates presided over an austerity
budget and significant internal reforms that largely got
Portugal's economic problems under control, meeting EU
benchmarks two years in advance. Socrates told us privately
that the PS victory earned him political capital that "is
only useful if you use it." To that end, Socrates overcame
opposition from the trade unions that traditionally form the
PS base in order to enact labor reforms, raising the
retirement age and cutting benefits to address what he
termed, "a demographic time bomb." Having fought -- and won
-- those battles early in his tenure, Socrates was able to
offer tax cuts and civil service pay increases this election

7. (C/NF) Socrates and his pragmatists have shifted the party
to the center. While this has emasculated the opposition
parties on the center-right and right, it has invigorated the
smaller leftist parties and frustrated the vocal left wing of
the PS itself. Socrates is betting that he can steal more
support from the center than he will lose on the extreme
left. He may be wrong for the short-term, but this may be an

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astute move for the longer term, especially if he can hold on
in national elections this fall. While shifting the party in
regard to the political spectrum, Socrates is also looking at
changing demographics throughout the country. The PS
promotes itself as the party of Europe (and Socrates was
midwife to the Lisbon Treaty in late 2007). On social issues
like abortion, divorce, and gay marriage, PS policies are in
line with European norms, but alienate the country's socially
conservative Catholics, a key voting bloc.

8. (C/NF) One of the old lions of the left wing of the
Socialist Party, Manuel Alegre, is often said to want to form
his own party in rebellion against the centrist-drifting PS.
He tells us privately that is not the case, although he would
not rule it out publicly just yet. Alegre ran as an
independent for the Portuguese Presidency in 2006, outpolling
the PS candidate, but falling just short of the center-right
PSD President Cavaco Silva. Rather than try to present a
unified front now, PS International Secretary Jose Lello
(presumably with Socrates' consent) has taken to attacking
Alegre in the media on a regular basis, attacks that dominate
coverage of the PS at the expense of any programmatic ideas
they might wish to put forward.

9. (C/NF) Even though the PS needs to augment the number of
women on its legislative list to meet the one third
requirement, party leaders dumped three sitting female
parliamentarians who are perceived to be Alegre supporters.
Much media coverage of the party reflects leftist frustration
that the PS "isn't Socialist anymore." Socrates remains
upbeat, but will have difficulty governing should he lose the
party's absolute majority in parliament. Corruption
allegations against Socrates from his time as Environment
Minister will not likely result in any formal sanction, but
tarnish his image (Ref A).

10. (C/NF) The center-right PSD is the second largest
Portuguese party and natural rival to the center-left PS.
One might think the internal divisions in the PS would
encourage the PSD to take advantage of the situation by
forging internal unity. That has not happened, as the PSD is
on its third leader in two years, with another leadership
change possible before autumn elections. Current leader
Manuela Ferreira Leite won an extremely tight three-way
internal election last summer. Her selling point is that, as
a former Economy Minister, she could fight the PS where they
were traditionally weakest. Unfortunately, she was Economy
Minister during the worst economy of the last twenty years,
following which the then-PSD government was turfed out of
power by a large majority that voted for the PS. Ferreira
Leite subsequently denied her main rival, Pedro Passos
Coelho, a party leadership position, freeing him to present
his own proposals to the public in a nation-wide "listening
tour." President Cavaco Silva is PSD but eschews party
infighting and strives for balance within and among the

11. (C/NF) PSD backbenchers argue so much about whether the
party should promote "more tax cuts" or "better tax cuts"
that no one really knows -- least of all the PSD
parliamentarians themselves -- the party's position. The PSD
polls well on infrastructure issues and is socially more
Catholic than the PS. This keeps them in the picture,
despite concerns regarding leadership ability. The PSD has a
good chance to regain the Lisbon mayor's seat, with former
Prime Minister Santana Lopes displacing the competent but
abrasive PS Mayor Antonio Costa. The PSD has not been able
to capitalize on Socrates' corruption allegations as a number
of its own leaders face similar allegations.

12. (C/NF) The right-of-center CDS-PP had the same leadership
mess as the PSD, until former leader and former Defense
Minister Paulo Portas returned to take the reins in April
2007. Portas can be abrasive but he is also highly
respected. He has placed the CDS-PP in the center of most
policy debates, filling the vacuum left by both the PS and
PSD. Current polling data show the CDS-PP below the
threshold for representation in the national parliament.
With popular support at such low levels, the CDS-PP will
likely not do well in the European elections, but many
believe that Portas could rally support for national
elections. The CDS-PP supporters are generally wealthy and
well-educated, a small demographic in Portugal.

--------------------------------------------- ------------
13. (C/NF) The Portuguese Communist Party (PCP) used to be a
major political force but is a shadow of its former self.

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The Socialists' abandonment of the extreme left, however,
gave the PCP a new lease on life, and it is polling at its
former numbers, despite having no good leaders. The Left
Bloc (BE), comprises the younger left. The BE was vocal and
effective in opposition to PS reform proposals.

14. (C/NF) Both the PCP and BE are poised to gain support in
national legislative elections, but are too small to govern.
Each party hopes to form a coalition with the PS, not
recognizing that the PS leadership is fleeing from the far
left and would prefer a weak minority government to a
coalition with the far left.

15. (C/NF) The "other" leftist party, the Greens (PEV) counts
more on links to other green parties around the world than on
any substantive platform. Global attention has helped the
PEV's polling numbers somewhat, but the party recently kicked
its one articulate and respected parliamentarian off of the
national committee and is now left without a respected public

16. (U) The current 24-member Portuguese delegation to the
European Parliament breaks down like this:

PS: 12
PSD: 7
PCP: 2
BE: 1

17. (C/NF) PS list leader Vital Moreira got in the news for
public shouting matches with PS left-wingers at campaign
rallies and then for proposing a European-wide tax on
financial transactions, which was lampooned by the opposition
and repudiated by Prime Minister Socrates. The PS would be
happy to keep ten seats in the new 22-seat delegation. No
PSD leaders inspire confidence, but the PSD might maintain
its hold on its seven seats at the expense of the CDS-PP (who
ran a combined list with the PSD last time). The two seats
the CDS-PP hold were won at the high water mark of the
party's popularity and influence, so maintaining even one
seat would be a success. The PCP and BE have small voter
bases, but they tend to turn out strongly on election day.
The PCP hopes to get four seats and the BE hopes to get
three. It would be an extraordinary success if they reached
seven seats combined, but they are certainly bound to have
more than the three they currently hold.

18. (C/NF) Does anyone want to win this thing? The ruling PS
should be running away with all three rounds of Portuguese
elections, given the PSD's hopeless management of the economy
during its last turn in government, but internal bickering,
silly gaffes, and the global economic crisis have left the
door open to others. Corruption allegations affect virtually
all the parties, but Portuguese voters appear not to be
bothered by them. Polls indicate that most voters think all
politicians are corrupt, so specific allegations -- like
those facing PM Socrates -- are not a bar to office. In the
final run-up to June 7 European elections, the campaigns have
all turned to negative attacks on specific individuals, many
of whom -- like Socrates and Portas -- are not currently
candidates, a dubious strategy in an election process the
uses a party list system.

For more reporting from Embassy Lisbon and information about Portugal,
please see our Intelink site:

http://www.intelink.sgov.gov/wiki/portal:port ugal

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