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Portugal - 2005 - Jose Socrates

Jose Socrates Parliamentary elections on February 20, 2005, gave the Socialist Party a comfortable majority for the charismatic new Prime Minister, Jose Socrates. Socrates will take over from Social Democrat Pedro Santana Lopes after the Socialists won the first absolute majority in the Portuguese parliament in more than 10 years.

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.

Former Environment Minister Jose Socrates promised to restore confidence to the country. Unemployment reached a six-year high of 7.1 percent last year. Socrates says he plans to institute a program of technological investment and training to create new jobs and boost economic growth.

Socrates' government formally assumed power March 12, 2005. The Socialists won an absolute majority in parliament for the first time in the party's history, which allowed Socrates to govern from the center without coalitions and helped him implement an economic reform agenda. By the end of 2007 the government had succeeded in reducing the budget deficit below the EU-mandated limit of three percent, a year ahead of schedule. Since the onset of the global financial crisis, however, the budget deficit and unemployment rate have again increased and are projected at 6 percent and over 10 percent respectively by year-end.

Socrates and his pragmatists shifted the party to the center. While this emasculated the opposition parties on the center-right and right, it invigorated the smaller leftist parties and frustrated the vocal left wing of the PS itself. Socrates was 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 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.

Parliamentary elections on September 27, 2009, gave the Socialist Party a plurality for incumbent Prime Minister Jose Socrates. The ruling Socialist Party (PS) led by Prime Minister Jose Socrates won a plurality of the seats in the 230-seat Parliament with 37 percent of the vote. The Socialists, who had ruled with an absolute majority (121 seats) since 2005, lost 25 seats. The opposition Social Democratic Party (PSD) trailed with 29 percent of the vote, followed by the Popular Party (CDS-PP) with 11 percent, the Left Bloc with 10 percent, and the Communist Party with 8 percent. The PSD gained three seats, while the Popular Party gained 10 seats, and the Left Bloc gained 8, doubling its presence (from 8 to 16 seats) in the Parliament. The Communists gained four seats. Voter turnout was 61 percent.

Socrates' government formally assumed power October 26, 2009. Although re-elected, the Socialist Party lost the absolute majority it had enjoyed in parliament since 2005, with the loss of 24 (from 121 to 97) of the parliament’s 230 seats. During the early months of its second mandate, Prime Minister Socrates’ minority government faced numerous challenges, including attempts by the opposition to block key legislation. While it has aligned with left-wing parties on social issues, such as same-sex marriage, it has looked to right-wing parties for support on fiscal policies and the 2010 budget. With rising unemployment and a growing budget deficit exceeding the mandated Eurozone limit, Socrates’ challenge is ensuring long-term economic and political stability and restoring public confidence amid increasing attack by the opposition.

Socialist Party (PS) Prime Minister Jose Socrates resigned March 11, 2011 after his minority government’s austerity plan was rejected by the parliament. He remained the caretaker Prime Minister pending new parliamentary elections on June 5, 2011. Elections on September 27, 2009, had given the Socialist Party a plurality for incumbent Socrates, although his party lost the absolute majority it had enjoyed since 2005. During the early months of its second mandate, Socrates’ minority government faced numerous challenges, including attempts by the opposition to block key legislation. While the Socialists aligned with left-wing parties on social issues, such as same-sex marriage, they looked to right-wing parties for support on fiscal and budgetary policies.

Ultimately, Socrates’ government fell under the weight of rising unemployment and a growing budget deficit exceeding the mandated eurozone limit, with right-wing parties sensing an opportunity to return to power and refusing to sign on to additional austerity measures. Socrates was subsequently forced to seek a bailout from the EU and International Monetary Fund (IMF) that posed additional challenges for the next government. Polls showed voters split between returning the Socialists to power and turning the government over to the more conservative Social Democratic Party.







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