Friday 23 March 2018

Socialists pledge to topple government in Portugal

Portugal's new prime minister sparks a political crisis, France's far-right look set for gains in local elections, while Germany welcomes Chinese dissident

Crisis: Portuguese Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho (right) and deputy minister Paulo Portas hold a press meeting after talks with Socialist Party leader Antonio Costa in Lisbon
Crisis: Portuguese Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho (right) and deputy minister Paulo Portas hold a press meeting after talks with Socialist Party leader Antonio Costa in Lisbon Newsdesk Newsdesk

Portugal's opposition Socialists pledged on Friday to topple the centre-right minority government with a 'no confidence' motion, saying the president had created "an unnecessary political crisis" by naming Pedro Passos Coelho as premier.

The move could wreck Passos Coelho's efforts to get his government programme passed in parliament in 10 days' time, extending the political uncertainty hanging over the country since an inconclusive October 4 election.

Coelho was named prime minister on Thursday after his coalition won the most votes in the national election.

The nomination set up a confrontation with the main opposition Socialists, who have been trying to form their own coalition government with two leftist parties who also want an end to years of austerity policies under the centre-right.

The Socialists and those parties, boosted by a swing to the left in the national election, would control most votes in parliament if they united.

In the early hours of Friday, the Socialist Party's national commission approved a motion for its lawmakers to "present a motion rejecting any government programme," that includes similar policies to the last government.

"The president has created an unnecessary political crisis," by naming Passos Coelho as prime minister, Socialist leader Antonio Costa said.

After the national election, Passos Coelho tried to gain support from the Socialists for his government, which instead started negotiating with the smaller far left Communist and Left Bloc parties to form am administration.

"We'll see what happens in parliament, if lawmakers reject the government programme it will prolong uncertainty, but if it is approved it will stabilise the situation," said Albino Oliveira, an analyst at brokerage Fincor.

The political stand-off has prompted concerns that the country's economic recovery after a bailout could stumble.

But, so far, bond market investors have been calm, preferring to focus on the likelihood of more quantitative easing by the European Central Bank.

Benchmark 10-year bond yields were unchanged at 2.36pc on Friday. The country's PSI20 stock index was up 1pc.

Passos Coelho's government launched austerity measures and tax hikes during the past four years under a bailout, which plunged Portugal into a three-year recession. The country returned to growth last year, which has accelerated this year.


Far-right leader Marine Le Pen is set to win control of France's northernmost area in regional elections in December, an opinion poll showed on Friday, with her niece, Marion Marechal-Le Pen, possibly coming first, too, in the southeastern Provence-Alpes-Cote d'Azur region.

The centre-right Les Republicains party led by former president Nicolas Sarkozy, is expected to win a majority of regions, according to the survey by the BVA polling institute, the first to measure voting intentions across mainland France ahead of December elections.

The poll showed the ruling Socialists, who currently dominate the regional assemblies, winning just three regions.

Le Pen, who is also preparing to run as the anti- immigrant, anti-euro National Front party's candidate in the 2017 presidential elections, would take 46pc of the December 13 run-off vote in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais-Picardie region, far ahead of a projected 29pc for the centre -right's candidate and 25pc for the left-wing contender.

Marechal-Le Pen, Marine's niece and grand-daughter of National Front founder Jean-Marie Le Pen, could win in a far closer contest in the south eastern Provence-Alpes-Cote d'Azur region, according to the poll, which saw her taking 37pc of votes, a fraction ahead of 36pc for the centre-right.

Marine Le Pen succeeded her father as National Front leader in 2011, but fell out with him earlier this year over comments he made dismissing the gas chambers of World War II as a "detail" of history.

The elder Le Pen was excluded from the party in August, in a move many saw as an attempt by Marine Le Pen to consolidate her leadership ahead of the 2017 presidential election, but which was opposed by Marechal-Le Pen.

The election being held in two rounds on December 6 and 13 will be the last before the presidential election in 2017 and it is the first contest for power at regional level since a redrawing of the electoral map last year.

Marine Le Pen, who has sought to rid the National Front of its anti-Semitic reputation since she succeeded her father as party leader, has enjoyed intensifying media attention as her own poll ratings have improved and in the wake of 2014 European Parliament elections, where her party came first.

As tensions rise ahead of the December ballot, she set off a fresh controversy last week by pulling out of a debate where she was due to face rivals from the mainstream left and right. She accused the France 2 public television station of making last-minute changes to the organisation of the debate.


Chinese dissident artist and free-speech advocate Ai Weiw ei has received a visa to stay in Germany for three years and will take up a teaching post at a Berlin university, his spokeswoman said on Wednesday.

Ai was reunited with his son and partner in Berlin after Chinese authorities unexpectedly returned his passport in July. They had confiscated it four years ago after secretly detaining him for 81 days.

Ai, one of China's most high-profile dissidents and political activist, posted a picture of his new visa, which runs until October 2018, on Instagram.

He will now start teaching as a guest professor at Berlin's University of the Arts, said his spokeswoman. "The university position will be for three years and during this period he will spend a lot of his time in Germany," she said.

Ai has praised Berlin as a creative sanctuary that reminds him of New York in the 1980s and 1990s when he lived there.

He said in August that China had reached a critical point where the absence of democratic freedoms is a growing threat to economic stability.

Sunday Independent

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