Portuguese minority government, likely doomed, takes office

AP News
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Posted: Oct 30, 2015 9:47 AM

LISBON, Portugal (AP) — Portugal's center-right coalition government took office Friday, starting the countdown to its likely collapse in 11 days' time.

The coalition government of the past four years won an Oct. 4 general election with 38 percent of the vote. But center-left parties that fiercely oppose its austerity policies together collected 62 percent. They have vowed to use their majority in Parliament to force the government's resignation in a scheduled Nov. 10 vote and aim to take power themselves.

That would make the government sworn in Friday the country's briefest ever, and bring concerns about whether Portugal will remain committed to the fiscal discipline required of members of the shared euro currency.

Debt-heavy Portugal is still recovering from its 78 billion-euro ($86 billion) bailout in 2011, when it was engulfed by the eurozone financial crisis.

The budget deficit last year was the second-highest in the eurozone at 7.2 percent, and government debt remains high at 128 percent of gross domestic product — the third-highest in the European Union.

The leftist alliance is negotiating an agreement that would reconcile differences between the moderate Socialist Party and the more radical Communist Party and Left Bloc. Crucially, the Socialists are in favor of the euro currency for Portugal whereas its two potential partners have campaigned against it and have also opposed NATO membership.

At the formal swearing-in ceremony at Lisbon's Ajuda Palace, President Anibal Cavaco Silva warned opposition parties against any policies or conduct that might raise doubts about Portugal's international commitments.

A decision on whether the leftist alliance will potentially replace the government falls to the head of state, who could also install a caretaker government until new elections.