Portugal: 5 minutes to understand a political crisis against a backdrop of corruption accusations

“End of cycle”, or even a “bomb”, write the Portuguese newspapers this Wednesday. In power for eight years, Socialist Prime Minister Antonio Costa resigned suddenly on Tuesday, swept up in a corruption affair which led to the indictment of one of his ministers and his chief of staff. “The functions of Prime Minister are not compatible with any suspicion of my integrity. In these circumstances, I presented my resignation to the President of the Republic”, he declared to the press. Resignation which was accepted by the head of state, the conservative Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa.

What is the Prime Minister accused of?

The scandal involving Antonio Costa concerns suspicions of “embezzlement, active and pive corruption of political office holders and influence peddling”. Investigators are questioning the conditions under which a license concession for “lithium mining exploration” in northern Portugal, “a project for the production of energy from hydrogen” and “a project for the production of energy from hydrogen” were awarded. construction of a data center for the company Start Campus” in Sines, south of Lisbon.

During the investigation, “the name and authority of the Prime Minister” were “cited”, the public prosecutor said in a press release on Tuesday.. He is suspected of having intervened “to unblock procedures” in the context of this affair and will be “the subject of an independent investigation”. He has not yet been charged.

🇵🇹 URGENT: António Costa renunciation of the Prime Minister of Portugal. pic.twitter.com/S3gj78W38v

Vários edifícios governamentais foram alvo de busca e preensão nesta terça (7), incluindo a residência official de primeiro-ministro, o Ministério do Meio Ambiente ea casa do…

— Eixo Político (@eixopolitico) November 7, 2023

Tuesday morning, a series of searches were carried out: at the official residence of the Prime Minister, in several homes, ministries and law offices. Taking into account the elements collected by the investigators, the “risk of flight and continuation of the criminal activity”, the justice system issued “arrest warrants” against the chief of staff of Antonio Costa, the mayor de Sines and two administrators from Start Campus. The Portuguese Minister of Infrastructure, Joao Galamba, was indicted, as was the president of the board of directors of the Portuguese Environmental Protection Agency (APA).

During his speech to the press on Tuesday, Antonio Costa said he was “surprised” by the opening of this investigation rejecting the practice of “any illegal act”. But “no one is above the law (…) the judicial authorities are free to investigate,” he declared during an interview with his ministers on Tuesday evening.

What precedents?

This resignation is “sudden”, but comes “after a succession of tensions and crises over the past year” with several resignations within the government, explains to Le Parisien the historian Yves Léonard, specialist in Portugal and teacher at Sciences-po. Strong man of the government, but also of the Portuguese socialist party, Antonio Costa has indeed seen his popularity plummet in recent monthsnotably because of the TAPgate affair.

This scandal broke out at the end of 2022, following the payment of severance pay of 500,000 euros to a TAP administrator (Portuguese national airline)who then took control of the air traffic control company before landing a few months later as Secretary of State for the Treasury. Several ministers then resigned, which had greatly weakened Antonio Costa’s position. Tuesday’s resignation, if it remains abrupt, is therefore a continuation of what has been observed in recent months.

By resigning, the socialist “allows education to take place” and “fulfills his duty to set an example, he leaves with his head held high”, comments Yves Leonard. This also allows him to “preserve his personal future” in politics, by moving away while the scandal pes.

What consequences?

To replace Antonio Costa, several scenarios are on the table. The President of the Republic can call early parliamentary elections so that the socialist majority is confirmed, or that another emerges. But with the far right on the rise for several months, these elections could lead to a “draft of wind” for this party, notes Yves Léonard. The president can otherwise choose a replacement from the socialists. If this party is “weakened” by the current scandal, “several names are circulating” to succeed Antonio Costa, ures the expert.

Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa summoned the representatives on Thursday parties and the Council of State, as required by the Constitution before being able to dissolve Parliament and call early elections. He will then address the nation to announce his decision.

The Socialist Party “is prepared for all scenarios, either for early elections or for a change of leader in the government”, said Tuesday the president of the PS, Carlos Cesar. For its part, the main right-wing opposition party, the Social Democratic Party (PSD), has called for early elections.

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