The president of Portugal calls early elections on March 10 after the resignation of António Costa | International

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Portugal will return to the polls two years after the legislative elections that gave a historic absolute majority to the Socialist Party in January 2022. The President of the Republic, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, announced on Thursday night in a speech to the nation that will dissolve the Assembly and call new elections on March 10, in response to the serious institutional crisis caused by the resignation of the prime minister, the socialist António Costa, after the Prosecutor's Office reported that he will be investigated by the Supreme Court to determine if he committed any crime in promoting various energy projects.

Rebelo de Sousa declared that he would have preferred to shorten the time until the next electoral appointment, but that he had taken into account the need to approve the General State Budgets of 2024 so as not to slow down the progress of the country and “the process of replacing leadership in the “Government party.” Although the Council of State had been divided over the final solution and almost half of its members defended the appointment of a substitute prime minister, the head of state explained in his speech that he rejected this option due to his fragility. The elections, he stressed, will provide “clarity and direction to overcome an unexpected vacuum that has surprised the Portuguese accustomed to eight years of government.” “And this is the form of democracy, not to be afraid of the people,” he added.

The Portuguese president also praised the prime minister for his management in difficult times such as the pandemic or the war in Ukraine, as well as his resignation and his offer to remain in office on an interim basis for the necessary time. Rebelo de Sousa asked the justice system to clarify suspicions about the prime minister “sooner rather than later,” in a veiled criticism of the slowness of the corruption processes taking place in the country.

In Operation Influencer, which included searches at the prime minister's official residence in the São Bento Palace and the arrest of his chief of staff, Vítor Escária, and his friend Diogo Lacerda Machado, the Prosecutor's Office has found crimes of prevarication, corruption and trafficking of influence to carry out two lithium mines in Montalegre and Covas do Barroso, a gigantic digital data complex in Sines and a green hydrogen project, which would ultimately end up frustrated.

The Portuguese socialists were left alone in their rejection of early elections as a way out of this crisis. Carlos César, president of the Socialist Party, had defended in his audience with President Rebelo de Sousa the appointment of a new prime minister to end political uncertainty and, at the same time, avoid months of government inaction that could damage the country's economy. “The PS considers that it has solutions that it can present to the president to lead a new Government,” César said in his meeting on Wednesday. Among the names proposed by the PS to replace Costa as prime minister were that of the current governor of the Bank of Portugal, Mário Centeno; the president of the Assembly, Augusto Santos Silva, or the former director general of the Organization for Migration, António Vitorino.

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The rest of the parties, with varying degrees of enthusiasm, have defended the calling of elections as the best way to resolve the crisis. Even the Communist Party, more reluctant at first, ended up betting on them in its meeting with the head of state. Luís Montenegro, leader of the Social Democratic Party (PSD, centre-right), believes that “only early elections” will allow us to overcome what happened. Although some parties are in a greater hurry than others to get to the polls, almost all had shown themselves willing to give time for the 2024 General State Budgets to be approved in the plenary session on November 29, before the Assembly is dissolved and that the socialists can put together an alternative leadership to the politician who has been everything in the last decade.

Shortly after the President of the Republic's announcement, the Socialist Party planned to gather its political commission to launch the process of Costa's succession to the general secretary, where he has remained for nearly a decade. Costa won a primary over the leader at the time, António José Seguro, whose narrow victory in a European election in 2014 was ruined on the same election night. The then mayor of Lisbon received more than 67% of the votes compared to 31% for his rival and underpinned an internal leadership in the party that reached its zenith with the absolute majority it won in January 2022. Hence his fall from grace has knocked out the organization, which is now trying to speed up the process to appoint a successor.

The former Minister of Infrastructure Pedro Nuno Santos, who in the last year has starred in an astonishing episode of fall from grace and political rehabilitation, could announce his candidacy in the coming days. Nuno Santos resigned a year ago after learning of the compensation of half a million euros paid to an administrator fired from the public airline TAP who was soon hired for another public company. The compensation was declared illegal.

As a result of that case, an investigative commission was created in the Assembly of the Republic, requested by the Left Bloc and blessed by Costa, who could not imagine the political storm that would be unleashed on Nuno Santos' successor in Infrastructure, João Galamba, one of the defendants (official suspects) in Operation Influencer. Although it had nothing to do with the million-dollar compensation, the management that Galamba carried out regarding his relationship with the parliamentary commission would end up leading to the dismissal of one of his advisors, who accused him of having threatened him with punches and who received a visit from an agent. of the secret services to recover an official laptop. The prime minister rejected Galamba's resignation after these events, against the opinion of the president of the Republic. It marked the breakup of the cordial institutional tandem that Rebelo de Sousa and Costa had been involved in for years, despite belonging to different political families.

If Galamba's appearance at the commission did not serve to remake his image, that of Pedro Nuno Santos captivated even critics of socialism. “It is not surprising that the PS likes it so much; Below António Costa, no one comes close to his heels in terms of charisma,” journalist João Miguel Tavares wrote then in Public. The truth is that he left the appearance with more political capital than he had when he entered. The press assumes that he will take a step forward in the coming days.

His rival could be the Minister of the Interior, José Luis Carneiro, one of the most highly valued in Costa's current cabinet. He has not been affected by any of the multiple scandals that have affected different government departments and is considered efficient. In statements to the Lusa agency, Carneiro confessed this Thursday that he had not yet made the final decision, although he had received the suggestion to do so from many militants. Carneiro would fit more with the centrist wing of the Socialist Party, while Nuno Santos is considered more leftist. He was one of the muñidores of the contraption [alianza parlamentaria de la izquierda que le dio el gobierno al PS tras una moción de censura] in Costa's first term.

This Thursday the list of defendants if. Minister Galamba and the president of the Environment Agency, Nuno Lacasta, have been joined by the former Secretary of State of the Presidency of the Council of Ministers, João Tiago Silveira, partner since 2017 at the Morais Leitão law firm, where he coordinated the area of ​​public law, urban planning and environment. One of those arrested in Operation Influencer, Rui Oliveira Neves, administrator of the company Start Campus, which promotes a large digital data complex in Sines powered by renewable energy and which was declared of Potential Interest, also belonged to this law firm as a partner since 2021. National in 2021. The lawyer Diogo Lacerda Machado had been hired by the promoters of this project to promote it before the Portuguese Administration.

This Thursday, Costa chaired a Council of Ministers that approved the minimum wage for 2024. In addition, he dismissed Vítor Escária, detained since Tuesday, as chief of staff.

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