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António Costa should have been on top of the world: his socialist party polled long before the opposition in national municipal elections, his handpicked vaccine czar declared victory over COVID-19 after leading a vaccination program without precedent and a long-standing financial scandal saw a satisfaction outcome and jail time for a prominent banker.
But the sweet taste of victory quickly turned sour as the prime minister’s failed attempt to promote the vaccine hero escalated into an ugly institutional battle, and he faces a nationwide outcry after the well-connected banker shuts down. fled abroad.
The election lost Costa its capital and successor, while the center-right opposition won a new star in the form of former EU commissioner Carlos Moedas, now the new mayor of Lisbon.
Moedas’ shocking victory in the Lisbon race made headlines in the elections for Portugal’s 308 city halls earlier this month.
Few gave the former EU research commissioner no chance of victory in his first election, but Moedas foiled opinion polls, ending 14 years of socialist rule in the capital.
Are the Socialists losing their grip?
“We won against all odds,” Moedas told enthusiastic fans. “We have shown that we can change the system… We have started a new cycle; it started in Lisbon, but I’m sure it won’t end in Lisbon.
The Socialist Party (PS) still finishes first at the national level, collecting 37% of the vote against 34% for the Social Democratic Party (PSD) of Moedas and its small conservative allies.
But the Lisbon defeat has been widely seen as a turning point in the Socialists’ grip on Portuguese politics since Costa came to power in 2015.
The elections “were of national importance. The PS may still dominate the municipal map, but it emerges weakened from these elections, with the clear feeling that its power has reached its limits ”, declared Manuel Carvalho, director of the newspaper Público, wrote on Monday. “The PSD was the big winner. “
Moedas defeated incumbent President Fernando Medina, who succeeded Costa as mayor of Lisbon in 2015. Medina was also a favorite to succeed as party head and prime minister when Costa stepped down to run for a European post of foreground ahead of the next legislative elections in 2023, as is widespread. Medina’s hopes now seem dead in the water.
Other key cities have also escaped the grip of the PS, in particular Funchal, capital of the island of Madeira, and the former university headquarters of Coimbra, a long socialist stronghold. In the second city of Porto, the PS recorded their worst result ever, barely 18%.
The results were a justification for the leader of the PSD Rui Rio, who chose Moedas as a candidate and bet his political future on obtaining a good score in the local elections.
In the aftermath of the results, Costa seemed to have found the perfect antidote to the bad news.
He joined with the country’s new national hero, Vice Admiral Henrique Gouveia e Melo, in declaring that the military task force in charge of Portugal’s vaccination campaign was disbanded after fully immunizing 84% of the population – a world record.
After a shaky start to the vaccination campaign, Costa appointed Gouveia e Melo in February. With quiet efficiency, the former submarine commander made Portugal the world jabber champion.
Gouveia e Melo swapped her usual camouflage outfits for navy whites in full dress during a photoshoot last week. “This thorny mission was successful and boosted the country’s self-esteem,” says Costa.
The government later disclosed that it was promoting Gouveia e Melo to head the navy.
Sadly, Costa and his defense minister, João Cravinho, seem to have forgotten that the most important military appointments are the business of Portuguese President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa.
The head of state quickly overturned the decision to get rid of the current naval commander, Admiral António Mendes Calado, who openly criticizes the government’s plans to reform the armed forces.
“There is only one person who can make this decision, and that is the president of the republic,” said clearly angered Rebelo de Sousa, who censured the government for dragging the vaccine hero into such a mess.
Costa and Cravinho rushed to the presidential palace for nightly talks amid a wave of criticism from military and opposition figures.
“The bitter taste of impunity”
The flight of banker João Rendeiro adds to Costa’s woes.
Rendeiro had previously been sentenced to a total of 15 years for money laundering, tax evasion and other crimes, but lawyers managed to keep him out of jail.
His fraud conviction on Tuesday with an additional three-year sentence, however, looked set to put him behind bars – until Rendeiro announcement he would not return to Portugal, apparently after receiving judicial authorization to travel to London.
Media reports had it variously in Belize and Singapore.
His escape sparked howls of outrage and appeared to confirm a widely held belief, stoked by radicals on the right and left, that economic and political elites are above the law.
“These cases almost always leave a bitter taste of impunity”, Mariana Mortágua, Member of the Left Bloc opposition party told parliament. “Decisions based on shady criteria[…]undermine the application of justice and its credibility in the eyes of the public. “
ELECTORAL SURVEY OF THE NATIONAL PARLIAMENT OF PORTUGAL
For more survey data from across Europe, visit POLITICS Poll polls.