Pre-Election Political Infighting Drives Huge Public Sector Strikes in Portugal

Pre-Election Political Infighting Drives Huge Public Sector Strikes in Portugal
Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa walks to the door of the Sao Bento palace in Lisbon, Portugal, Jan. 17, 2019 (AP photo by Armando Franca).

Thousands of Portuguese nurses marched through Lisbon earlier this month to call for higher wages and better working conditions, as the main nurses’ unions negotiate with the government following a recent three-week strike that paralyzed the country’s health sector. Other public sector unions have taken similar actions, putting intense pressure on Prime Minister Antonio Costa, who survived a no-confidence motion last month. In an interview with WPR, Jorge Fernandes, a visiting scholar at Harvard University’s Center for European Studies, points out that this turmoil is largely a result of behind-the-scenes politicking by Portugal’s major political parties ahead of legislative elections that are scheduled for October.

World Politics Review: How did Prime Minister Costa survive the no-confidence motion against him?

Jorge Fernandes: The current Portuguese minority government is held up by what is sometimes called a “contract parliamentarianism” arrangement. Rather than a formal governing coalition, Costa’s Socialist Party, which lacks a majority in the legislature, has confidence-and supply-agreements with a number of small leftist parties, and coordinates with them on important votes, such as motions of no-confidence and annual budgets. Costa survived the no-confidence vote because the leftists voted against it.

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