The resignation of António Costa opens the battle for leadership in socialism in Portugal | International
The Socialist Party (PS) failed to convince the Portuguese president, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, of the benefits of continuing with the legislature and appointing an alternative prime minister to resolve the institutional crisis created after the resignation of António Costa. The head of state believes that only new elections, to be held on March 10, will provide clarification and close the political wound opened after the arrest of several people from Costa's close circle, which will be investigated by the Supreme Court to determine his role in a case where crimes of corruption, influence peddling and prevarication have been observed in several energy projects.
Rebelo de Sousa ruled out the appointment of Mário Centeno, current governor of the Bank of Portugal and former Minister of Finance, suggested by Costa as his replacement, and other proposals from the socialists. His Council of State was split in half during deliberation; one side was in favor of continuing the legislature with a new prime minister, and the other defended early elections. The head of state aligned himself with this solution because he considered that an alternative socialist government, without going to the polls, would be weakened. To give the Assembly time to approve the 2024 General State Budget and the Socialist Party to put together a candidacy to replace Costa, Rebelo de Sousa has called the elections within four months and not immediately.
The electoral machinery of the socialists began to work as soon as the decision of the President of the Republic was known. The political commission of the PS met at the Largo do Rato headquarters until one in the morning. At that meeting, the Minister of the Interior, José Luis Carneiro, announced that he was presenting his candidacy for the general secretary of the organization and shortly afterward he himself informed the journalists waiting on the street. “I have transmitted my availability, with the same values as always, of freedom, equality and social justice, to put my life experience at the service of these values and put these values at the service of the country,” he indicated. Carneiro will make a public statement to explain his move this Saturday.
Carneiro (Baião, 52 years old) is one of the Costa ministers most highly rated in the polls and had not entered the succession pools until a few months ago. His work at the head of the Ministry of the Interior, which had been surrounded by controversies in the past with his predecessors, has strengthened his image as a discreet and efficient manager. He also has weight within the party due to his time as deputy general secretary of the PS as António Costa's right-hand man and is considered to represent the most moderate and centrist wing.
In the next few hours, former minister Pedro Nuno Santos (São João da Madeira, 46 years old), who has never hidden his desire to aspire to the leadership of the party after Costa's time, is also expected to announce his candidacy. The leftism of Nuno Santos, who has always claimed the contraption [alianza de partidos de la izquierda que dio el Gobierno al PS en 2015] which he helped to grease, raises certain misgivings in one part of the apparatus. “The PS cannot embark on frontist adventures,” declared a former minister at the night meeting of the political commission, quoted by Express.
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The election of the new leader will take place in primaries among the militants, scheduled for December 15 and 16. The new leadership will emerge from a congress scheduled for January 6 and 7, two months before the electoral date. The internal cohesion that the party has experienced since 2014 under Costa's leadership now risks breaking down if a bitter battle for succession opens and would contribute to further weakening the image of the socialists, after the hard blow of Operation Influencer, in which five people are detained and defendants (official suspects) three others, among them the still Minister of Infrastructure, João Galamba, who on Friday indicated that he did not intend to resign.
In his first statements to the press after announcing his resignation, Costa left Galamba's immediate future in the air by explaining that he would speak about him with President Rebelo de Sousa. The acting prime minister reiterated that he had a clear conscience and explained that on Thursday he had dismissed his chief of staff, Vítor Escária, one of those arrested on Tuesday, upon learning that he had 78,000 euros hidden in books in his office.
Costa, who walked on Thursday night from his official residence to the PS headquarters hand in hand with his wife, Fernanda Tadeu, to participate in the political commission, declared to the press that he still did not know the reasons for the opening of a judicial investigation into him. “What I know is what I read in the press. I appreciate that you are giving me news,” he said ironically at the door of the socialist headquarters.
In addition to showing his disagreement with the electoral advance ("the country did not deserve to be called to new elections"), he regretted that Rebelo de Sousa had not opted for the "stable solution" of a Government led by Mário Centeno, whom he praised as “a personality with great government experience, respected and admired by the Portuguese, with strong international prestige.” The possibility of Centeno, who is independent, embarking on the race to replace Costa seems remote. In an interview with EL PAÍS, held in September, he responded to the question of whether he would be available if the Socialist Party encouraged him to run to succeed Costa: “It is not a question that is in my head.”
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