Elections in Portugal: fight the oligarchy or nothing will change

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Another election cycle is approaching. This time against the will of the majority of the dominant opinion. The public doesn’t see the point. The election is seen as the result of cynical political calculations that do not match the nation’s aspirations.

And now those lamentations have been overshadowed by a media frenzy over political debates between party leaders and candidates. The resurgent far right has been the necessary catalyst to get political parties out of their most topical concerns. Concerns about precariousness, health, housing, the economy and many other areas.

In this way, the election is framed as a contest of personalities and personal motivations. Decision-making ends up depending on emotional affinities and vague club party loyalties. Thus, issues such as the mechanisms of domination, exploitation, growing inequality and the loss of sovereignty take a back seat.

It cannot be overstated how detrimental the media’s obsession with personalizing campaigns is. Boiling down to an array of commentators, endless commentary and embracing the jargon of martial arts and warfare.

They thus perpetuate the toxic Sebastianist culture of “great men” and politicians, the only ones who hold the key to our common prosperity. As Trump said during his presidential campaign, “Only I can fix the system.”

That said, there is still a theme that emerges from the clashes between the various party leaders. A theme much claimed by the candidates of the major parties: the political primacy of pragmatism.

Prudence and pragmatism are indispensable tools in politics. Especially since the position you hold is high. But they tend to be erected as basic principles by modern social democratic parties. And if moderation is taken as a principle and not as a tool, it becomes an obstacle to the desired objectives.

With a little speculation, one could suggest that the poor housing policy results of recent Socialist Party governments in Portugal, which have failed to stem the spiraling rise in the cost of housing, are not necessarily the product of cynical and propagandistic calculations.

Promises were made with no intention of keeping them. Not for ideological or other more nefarious motives, but rather in a utilitarian way. Given the enormity of the task that will fall to the governors who will try to confront the hegemonic real estate lobby.

Whether at home or abroad, the real estate hydra and its speculative onslaught are setting even the bravest politicians back. We see to what extent pragmatism has been hijacked by rulers who make it their cause. Failure to address this issue undermines valiant efforts in other areas. Just understand how the steep rise in the cost of living far outweighed any gain from a minimum wage increase.

You have to confront the real estate oligarchy to reap the rewards of a progressive political agenda. Since the speculative octopus has polluted everything around it, pragmatism is needed for other policies to be effective.

In this campaign, it is common to hear the argument that without political stability, the opportunity of a generation will be wasted. And, that the progressive management of the European covid pandemic recovery funds (PRR) will be hampered. But even in the best of times, we cannot forget that we live under the well-known ethical aegis of “socialism for the rich and fierce individualism for everyone else”. Given the history of ‘green investments’ in Portugal, what more can we really expect?

We must welcome the fact that Portugal produces the majority of its energy resources thanks to renewable energies. But at what cost ? Having lost hundreds of millions in annual profits due to the alienation of REN and EDP from the public treasury. And by overwhelming the Portuguese with the PPP rent to the same oligarchs who observed the establishment of the “European funds”.

The process of allocating RRP funds, even the part that concerns “green investments”, will continue to be captured by the oligarchic logic that largely runs the energy sector. Like the hundreds of millions that were recently left unpaid, due to laws drafted by our legislature to grant a generous $110 million tax exemption to EDP. What certainty do we have that this great European gift will not result in a much higher bill in the long term, given the infamous results of agreements and PPPs in the energy and road sectors, among others?

If political stability means continuing on the current path, without major changes in the way productive gains are captured by an oligarchic structure, we face a paradox. Because a path that ends in a dead end can only create instability.

The democratic quarantine did not start yesterday

After each election, the nation’s institutional figures make their first statements on abstention. Sometimes more optimistic about the health of the national democratic spirit. Sometimes more pessimistic. But we know that year after year the trend is not encouraging. We still have large sections of the population far removed from the electoral process. Disengaged or disinterested. The poorest, the youngest, the oldest and the descendants of immigrants. It’s a paradox that no one seems to want to answer. Why are those most affected by the injustices of the system those who have the least hope for the decision-making mechanisms of society? Is this a feature or a bug?

In this context, the repeated comments on the health of democracy take on pernicious contours. Is it not precisely the authors of these remarks who preside, as a political class, over the slow deterioration of democracy?

In the next elections, it is not at all indifferent which candidate or which party conjuncture will have the majority. The relative strength of different parties can force very different coalitions. On the other hand, the possibility that there is no agreement for a coalition, means that there could be new elections again. Like the elephant in the room that everyone wants to ignore.

The same goes for another ghost that is not addressed. Perhaps the biggest constraint on any future horizon for the country. Namely, the current restrictive consensus of the European elite. The infamous austerity and regressive dogma that is set to resurface with renewed intensity in times to come.

This is why only a progressive pan-European people‘s movement can maintain some clarity in the confusion of this electoral maze. Only a radical program like the Green New Deal for Europe can truly be called pragmatic.

The photograph captures the moment the state budget for 2022 was rejected in the Portuguese Parliament. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Miguel Gomes is a member of the Setúbal collective of DiEM25.

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