“In my mind, the dignity of the office of Prime Minister is not compatible with any suspicion concerning his integrity, his good conduct, and even less with the suspicion of a criminal act. This is why, in these circumstances, I obviously presented my resignation to his Excellency, Mr. President of the Republic.” With these words spoken Tuesday evening, the head of the Portuguese government, the socialist Antonio Costa, drew all the conclusions from the investigation opened by the Prosecutor's Office against him and his entourage, accused of corruption.
The president, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, a representative of the center right (Social Democratic Party, PSD), known for his political independence, will have to decide this Thursday between two options: appoint a new prime minister capable of winning the confidence of Parliament, where the PS is in the majority; or, more likely, dissolve the Assembly to call early elections. “It’s a complete surprise,” recognizes Antonio Costa Pinto, political scientist at the Institute of Social Sciences at the University of Lisbon. It’s a shock to society. For the first time in the history of Portuguese democracy, a serving prime minister is the subject of a judicial investigation and likely to be judged by the Supreme Court, the only one authorized to trigger this procedure.
The Prosecutor's Office first informed of the opening of an investigation against relatives of the head of the executive. In four industrial projects linked to a data storage center, lithium mines and a hydrogen plant, justice suspects political leaders linked to the Costa government, including his chief of staff, of influence peddling and corruption , but also a former advisor and personal friend. Then the Public Prosecutor's Office clarified in a press release: “During the investigations, it also emerged that suspects invoked the name and authority of the Prime Minister and that he intervened to unblock procedures. These references will be analyzed independently as part of the investigation launched by the Supreme Court.”
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Costa, in his speech announcing his departure, said, “with his eyes in the eyes of the Portuguese, let not weigh on (his) conscience the commission of any illicit act”. Nevertheless, “he had no other possible path than resignation,” considers Costa Pinto. All observers are of the opinion that it is more those around him than himself who are incriminated. But it is very difficult to think that the judicial authority is moving forward without solid clues.”
Costa will mark the Portuguese political history of almost eight years of office. The first socialist leader to have successfully negotiated the support of the forces on the left of the PS, he also managed to get rid of his cumbersome allies by obtaining an absolute majority in 2022. “He also took away from the right the monopoly of budgetary balance and good economic management, adds the political scientist, to the point of presenting a surplus budget for 2024. He thus removed the usual criticism according to which the left would lead the country to bankruptcy.
It remains to be seen who will replace him. In the probable event of early elections, the right-wing opposition, led by the PSD, has the advantage of being in battle order, under the rule of its president for eighteen months, Luis Montenegro. In the PS, on the other hand, there is fear that the elections will take place too early for the ascendancy of a leader to be consolidated, for example the former minister of infrastructure, Pedro Nuno Santos, considered to represent the left wing and who is the favorite. “In any case,” warns Costa Pinto, “you can throw away all the polls published until Tuesday, they are no longer worth anything.” Stunned by an unexpected political crisis, the Portuguese are sailing by sight.