Portuguese Antonio Costa, a pragmatic socialist – Europe

Thomas Cabral (AFP)

Lisbon, Portugal ●
Mon 31 January 2022

To free

Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa, whose Socialists won an absolute majority in parliament in flash polls on Sunday, is a pragmatic tactician who came to power with support from the far left.

The former mayor of Lisbon took the reins in 2015 following a poll in which his Socialists finished second to a centre-right coalition that had overseen a harsh EU-imposed austerity programme.

In a surprise move, he convinced two small far-left parties to support a minority socialist government, the first time this had been attempted in Portugal.

Many analysts predicted that the coalition government – dubbed the “geringonca” or “engine” – would last six months at most, but it has completed its four-year term.

Costa then led his Socialists to victory in the next election in 2019, although they failed to secure an outright majority.

On Sunday, he finally won an absolute majority in parliament in a snap election that saw his Socialists win at least 117 seats out of the 230 seats in parliament, according to the results.

Four seats are still to be allocated in the coming days with the results of the votes cast abroad, but in 2019 the Socialists won two.

“I have to admit that tonight is very special for me,” Costa said during a victory speech at his party’s campaign headquarters.

“Boring optimism”

Riding the wave of global economic recovery and tourism boom, Costa, 60, managed to roll back some of the austerity measures imposed by his predecessors even as his government balanced the books.

Under his leadership, Portugal posted its first budget surplus in 45 years of democracy in 2019, although the Covid pandemic has since inflated the public deficit again.

But in October 2021, Costa failed to secure budget support from the two small far-left parties backing his government, prompting Sunday’s snap polls.

Ahead of Sunday’s election, he had vowed to step down if his Socialists did not win, but he also signaled his willingness to form alliances again if he came out on top with a narrow margin.

“Antonio Costa is a very experienced and very ambitious politician,” said University of Lisbon political scientist Jose Santana Pereira.

“In some contexts, some characteristics are good qualities, in others they can be considered flaws.”

But Portugal’s conservative President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, who was Costa’s professor at Lisbon Law School, once called out the prime minister for his “chronic and slightly boring optimism”.

Family from Goa

Born in Lisbon on July 17, 1961, Costa grew up in intellectual circles frequented by his parents, Orlando da Costa, a communist writer from a family in Goa, a former Portuguese colony in India, and Maria Antonia Palla, journalist and animator defending rights.

Nicknamed “babush”, an endearing term for a little boy in Konkani, a dialect of Goa, Costa joined the youth wing of the Socialist Party in 1975 when he was just 14, a year after a coup of State put an end to a decades-long right. dictatorship.

in 1995, after earning a degree in law and political science, Costa was appointed secretary of state for parliamentary affairs – a key role in the minority socialist government of Antonio Guterres, the current UN secretary general.

Costa was promoted to Minister of Justice four years later.

After a brief stint in the European Parliament, he was appointed Minister of the Interior in 2005 in the government of José Socrates.

He resigned after two years and successfully ran for mayor of Lisbon. He was re-elected to this post in 2009 and 2013.

The move to municipal politics allowed Costa to distance himself from Socrates, who resigned as prime minister in 2011 after brokering Portugal’s international bailout.

Socrates was arrested in 2014, accused of corruption and tax evasion.

A fan of Lisbon-based Benfica, Portugal’s most successful football team, the married father of two likes to relax by doing puzzles.

Mary I. Bruner