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Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa
THE ELECTION of conservative candidate Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa as Portugal's new president on January 24 (with 51.99 percent of the vote and a 48.84 percent voter turnout) adds a new element to the existing "tripolar" situation, which may be analyzed as follows:
First, we have a Socialist Party (SP) government-serving alongside the newly elected president-presided over by the party's general secretary Antonio Costa. Costa's government is based on conditional parliamentary support he received from the Left Bloc (Bloco de Esquerda, in Portuguese) and the Portuguese Communist Party (CPC).
However, the Left Bloc's conditions differ significantly from those of the PCP. The PCP is, in turn, very different from the Left Bloc; for instance, it maintains close ties to the MPLA (Movimento Popular de Libertição de Angola) government of Angola, which controls that country's wealth almost as if it were a family business. The daughter of Angolan President José Eduardo dos Santos, Isabel dos Santos, is among the key investors in the old colonial metropole where she enjoys the title of the "richest woman in Africa."
Furthermore, the PCP keeps up relations with the celestial bureaucracy of China, still referred to as "communist" by hack journalists. These ties to the MPLA and the Chinese Communist Party flow not only from ideological affinity, but also through some material veins.
For anyone who is following events in Portugal, it is therefore wrong to speak of a "bloc" between the Left Bloc and the PCP. It may well be that the PCP will utilize pressure from sections of the CGTP (General Confederation of Portuguese Workers) in order to negotiate with the government. But the CGTP is extremely weak-especially since a layer of young people who mobilized last year to protest austerity has been forced to migrate to search for work.
During the last few years, the population of Portugal has fallen by 5 percent. This constitutes a socioeconomic hemorrhaging and a kind of reverse debt. That is, foreign capitalist economies actively seek out this young workforce-hard hit by unemployment and the crisis in agriculture, and whose education and training have already been financed, mainly by taxes on Portuguese workers themselves-for the super-exploited construction and cleaning sectors in France, Switzerland and Germany.
The casualization of this forced emigration of the young, starting in 2010 and continuing in subsequent years, is perpetuated by classifying them as "guest workers, " according to the German formula.
Many of these graduates are "employees" performing tasks for which they are overqualified, but whose language skills make them "flexible." They are, therefore, used as an underpaid workforce and as a useful lever for pumping out absolute surplus value (longer working hours) and relative surplus value (higher productivity and lower wages).
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SECOND, THE European Union (EU) continues to insist, as it did at the February 11 meeting of EU finance ministers known as the Eurogroup, on the need to apply the rules of a stability and growth pact, previously signed by the Portuguese government, to the terms of the state budget for Portugal in 2016.
The Eurogroup announced that it is waiting for verification of the 2015 state deficit from Eurostat (the official organ of the EU) in order to specify its demands. This took place while the budget was being debated line by line in parliament.
With SP leader Antonio Costa at his side, Portuguese Finance Minister Mario Centeno stated that revenue and assets were the most important concerns for the governing team. And he declared that he was ready to take any necessary action after Jeroen Dijsselbloem, currently president of the Eurogroup, thanks to German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble, warned that stability and growth pact "rules might require, if needed, Portugal be ready to do more to consolidate the state budget." (Iinformação, February 12, 2016)
This constraint imposed by the EU will be permanent, and it will increase. None other than Antonio Costa himself emphasized the fact that Portugal must remain in the eurozone, and that the final version of the 2016 and 2017 budgets must take this into account.
And this is at a time when forecasts for economic growth rates are falling. Revisions for GDP growth have already dropped from 2.1 percent to 1.8 percent, which is clearly having an effect on state revenue, indirect taxes (VAT and excise duties on alcohol, tobacco, gasoline and diesel) chief among them. In fact, these sorts of taxes hit the poor and working classes the hardest because they are forced to spend most of their wages on necessities.
Moreover, according to a recent survey published in the Diario de Noticias on February 10, 83.4 percent of employees are currently earning less than 1, 500 euros per month. However, their median gross income-calculated by dividing this 83.4 percent into two equal parts, 50 percent above and 50 percent below-is just 785 euros.
So it is easy to imagine a budget that, along with a very important debate about the allocation of resources, will also have to address differentiated taxation on income. The current budget under debate would require workers with a declared income of 800 euros a month to actually pay more than workers earning 1, 500 euros or more. The Left Bloc's national deputies spoke out strongly in order to correct this unequal tax.
Third, President Rebelo de Sousa, as shown in an article by Manuel Loff in Publico, is a descendent of the fascist political regime created by António de Oliveira Salazar, who ruled Portugal from 1932 to his death in 1968. The regime itself remained in power until it was overthrown during the 1974 Carnation Revolution.
Rebelo de Sousa intervenes sharply on social questions-ironically labeled "divisive" issues in Portugal-such as euthanasia or the right to abortion, while his policies are endlessly reinforced in the television and print mainstream media. Parliamentary battles are also reproduced in newscasts and in televised confrontations, creating a brutal and deafening media encirclement.
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