Former MEP Rui Tavares (photo: European Union)
Former MEP Rui Tavares created Livre party (photo: European Union)

There’s a new political movement in Portugal which aims to be just like Syriza, the radical left party that has come to power in Greece. Portugal’s version is called Tempo de Avançar (Time to Advance) and combines four leftist political groups, the main one being Livre (Free Party), founded last year by former Portuguese MEP Rui Tavares.

Tempo de Avançar is not anti-European but is strongly anti-austerity, and this weekend (31 January) is holding an open meeting in Lisbon to start preparing a government programme. “We are looking for new forms of political participation that respond to the crisis of recent years, just like Podemos is doing in Spain and Syriza did in Greece“, says Ana Drago, one of the leaders of Tempo de Avançar.

But there are other parties that could claim the Syriza crown too. Bloco de Esquerda (Left Bloc), which is already representing in national parliament, is closer ideologically to Syriza. “Both combine former communists, former Maoists and former Trotskyists,” says Maria Flor Pedroso, political editor at Antena 1 public radio. Bloco de Esquerda was formed in 1999 following the shake-up of the Portuguese left generated by the fall of the Berlin Wall.

When Syriza won Greece’s parliamentary elections on 25 January, its leader and now prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, said the Troika is now “a thing of the past”. The same troika, representing international lenders (the International Monetary Fund, the European Commission and the European Central Bank) started intervening in Portugal in May 2011, one year after Greece.  And the austerity measures have had harsh effects in Portugal too. Youth unemployment is at 35 percent; economic output dropped 7.4 percent between 2009 and 2013; the welfare states has been drastically cut back; and emigration has shot up.

Portugal has traditionally been dominated by two parties, the centre-right PSD (currently in coalition government with the conservative CDS party) and the centre-left PS. A general election will be held this year, probably in October, but the left remains fragmented ahead of the poll.

Besides Tempo de Avançar, there is also the Republican Democratic Party (PDR).  It is led by Portuguese MEP António Marinho e Pinto, a well-known lawyer whose fiery public remarks are dubbed “populist” by mainstream politicians.

António MARINHO E PINTO
António Marinho e Pinto (photo: European Union)

PDR is awaiting approval by the Constitutional Court and defines itself as progressive, reformist, and centre-left.  The secretary general of the party, José António Vieira da Cunha, said that the PDR does not share Syriza’s ideology but is looking to attract people disillusioned with mainstream politics. “We support the subordination of economic power to political power but within the European framework, respecting the Portuguese Constitution and the commitment to pay the debt,” he says.

Another leftist party is Juntos Podemos, but it is wracked by inner turmoil and is seen as being on the way out.  Meanwhile, politicians and commentators suggest that social movements are still weaker in Portugal than in Greece or Spain, noting that the austerity of recent years has broken social bonds, but that the population still remains relatively passive.

Spanish Podemos was born around the 15-M Movement [anti-austerity movement formed in 2011], Syriza has its roots in the humanitarian response to the Greek crisis, and in Portugal, where social movements are weaker, we at Tempo de Avançar are trying to find new forms of political participation”, states Ana Drago.

Maria Flor Pedroso suggests the Syriza phenomenon “is not replicable” in Portugal, as the country’s social movements “don’t have the same capacity they had in Greece to generate political organisations“. Nevertheless, small parties and leftist movements are looking enviously at Syriza and yearn for the same momentum.

Bruno Horta

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