Portugal PM says leftist alliance should continue after 2019 vote

Reuters News
Posted: Apr 04, 2017 9:19 AM

By Andrei Khalip

LISBON (Reuters) - Portugal's Prime Minister Antonio Costa praised his minority Socialist government's alliance in parliament with the far left and said it would be useful to extend the pact beyond the 2019 election even if he wins an outright majority.

In an interview with Radio Renascenca on Tuesday, Costa ruled out any need for a snap election despite his party's rising opinion poll ratings and said the alliance "is a good solution, with or without an absolute majority".

It stands out as a remarkable exception in Europe where the left is largely struggling where it holds power. The government has been raising wages and gaining popularity and yet delivering the lowest budget deficit in living memory.

Polls put support for Costa's Socialists at 42 percent, up 10 points from their share of the vote in the 2015 election and close to a level that would give them an outright majority in parliament were the country to vote again.

"I think there should be no election now. On the contrary, the country needs stability and we should all work together to complete the legislature in normalcy, tranquillity," Costa said.

"When we have an election at the end of the legislature, if the Communist Party, the Left Bloc and the Greens are available to renew the pact, it would be useful ... This change has improved the quality of our democracy."

Nevertheless, Costa said the parties maintained sufficiently big differences to prevent a pre-election coalition and saw few chances for the far left entering the government.

"We are fine this way. You don't rearrange a team that is winning," he said. Portugal will hold municipal elections across the country in October.

Costa also said that his Finance Minister Mario Centeno, who is credited with devising a way to reverse many of the austerity policies of the previous administration while at the same delivering the lowest budget deficit in over 40 years, has been sounded out to become the next Eurogroup chief.

He did not say who has approached Centeno. But he said he preferred to keep him focused on Portugal.

"He would certainly make an excellent Eurogroup president ... But, while Portugal still has various points under negotiation with Eurogroup, this is not a priority for us. We are very happy with Mario Centeno as minister," Costa said.

Dutch Finance Minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem, who now chairs meetings of the 19 euro zone finance ministers, last month upset southern Europeans, notably Portugal, with remarks about drinking and womanizing, damaging his hopes of retaining his job. His current term ends in January.

(Reporting by Andrei Khalip; Editing by Axel Bugge and Alison Williams)