The Pantomime of Democracy: Portugal’s Coup Against Anti-Austerity

“Meanwhile in Portugal we are witnessing the makings of a genuine coup with the unwillingness of the establishment there to accept the outcome of an election and the support won by parties who oppose EU austerity.”

Gerry Adams, Sinn Féin, Oct 24, 2015

This is the truest form of Euro authoritarianism, short of full prisons and torture chambers. (These may, in time, come.) If you are not seized by the idea, the fetishism of a currency; if you gather up your forces to mount an offence against austerity, twinned as it with monetary union, then you must be, in the eyes of these policing forces, against the European project.

This obscene inversion has found form in Portugal, yet another country that has taken the road towards anti-democratic practice when it comes to the battle between the outcome of staged elections and the heralded inviolability of a broken euro system. It has the chill of history – political groupings with a certain number of votes barred because of supposedly radical tendencies. It has also received scant coverage in certain presses, with a few notable examples, such as Ambrose Evans-Pritchard’s observation that the country had “entered dangerous political waters.”[1]

First, the mathematics of the election held on October 4. The combined Left bloc won 50.7 percent of the vote (122 seats), while the conservative premier, Pedro Passos Coehlo’s Right-wing coalition gained 38.5 percent – a loss of 28 seats. One would have to be a rather brave and foolish individual to let the latter form government.

This, in fact, is what Aníbal Cacavo Silva, the country’s constitutional president, did. “In the 40 years of democracy, no government in Portugal has ever depended on the support of anti-European forces, that is to say forces that campaigned to abrogate the Lisbon Treaty, the Fiscal Compact, the Growth and Stability Pact, as well as to dismantle monetary union and take Portugal out of the euro, in wanting the dissolution of NATO.”

The statement hits upon a definition of the European project, if you can call it that, linked to bound, self-interested market structures and the virtues of military defence. Cavaco Silva evidently cannot conceive that a European project could involve a variation of the theme, let alone one averse to dogmas of austerity and the bank.

The Socialists, under António Costa, have promised Keynesian reflation policies with expenditures on education and health, a policy platform very much at odds with the EU’s Fiscal Compact.

So much, in that sense, for the legacy of the Carnation Revolution, which saw Portugal’s post-Salazar normalisation. It was that generally peaceful revolution that oversaw the demise of the Estada Novo, António de Oliveira Salazar’s corporatist vision that shares, in some perverse sense, similarities with the anti-democratic spirit of EU market governance. Bolting from those same stables, Cavaco Silva insists that the European left, and specifically the parties in Portugal, are somehow against Europe, parochial and therefore dangerous. The reverse, in fact, is the case.

The clue in Cavaco Silva’s erroneous thoughts on where a pan-European idea lies in his total faith in the market, corporate ideal. It is not the language of voters and public investment here that counts, but the ghostly forces of capital and private investment. The investors, the financiers, and the bankers must be kept in clover – or the entire country and by virtue of that, the EU, unravels.

“This is the worst moment for a radical change to the foundations of our democracy. After we carried out an onerous programme of financial assistance, entailing heavy sacrifices, it is my duty, within my constitutional powers, to do everything possible to prevent false signals being sent to financial institutions, investors and markets.”

In point of fact, the most radical tendency in history is the illusion that democracy and the market do, in fact, have a relationship that corresponds, rather than jars. In truth, democracy can only ever survive when markets are controlled. The European financiers have given the impression, manifested through the ideology of the Troika, that the estranged European Union is democratic only because it has such institutions as a single currency, or a tough austerity line.

The Greek crisis showed this entire process to be a grim sham, with Athens now a client state mortgaged to the hilt and contained by debt bondage. This happened after Syriza won power in January with a platform that seemed, at first, to be wholly against austerity. Sovereignty is short changed, while the finance sector counts its gains.

The entire context of such revolt in finance is permissiveness towards reactionary, nationalist elements. This is the paradox of having a supposedly flexible market that encourages the ease of liquidity in the absence of stable social structures. Historically, the forces of capital and finance permit a degree of nationalism and extremism as long as the money sector comes good. The liquidity tends to stay put.

The Portuguese example has become the most overt statement of this so far, though the Left grouping promise to block and scuttle the proposed four-year policy programme of the minority administration when the assembly resumes.

Till the two points meet – the pro-European left inspired by Keynesian-buttressed sovereignty, and the anti-democratic institutions that have held the European idea hostage – the notion of a workable euro zone will disintegrate. It will become, instead, a geographical area populated by authoritarian governments who see elections as mere pantomimes.


[1] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/economics/11949701/AEP-Eurozone-crosses-Rubicon-as-Portugals-anti-euro-Left-banned-from-power.html

More articles by:

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

March 19, 2018
Henry Heller
The Moment of Trump
John Davis
Pristine Buildings, Tarnished Architect
Uri Avnery
The Fake Enemy
Patrick Cockburn
The Fall of Afrin and the Next Phase of the Syrian War
Nick Pemberton
The Democrats Can’t Save Us
Nomi Prins 
Jared Kushner, RIP: a Political Obituary for the President’s Son-in-Law
Georgina Downs
The Double Standards and Hypocrisy of the UK Government Over the ‘Nerve Agent’ Spy Poisoning
Dean Baker
Trump and the Federal Reserve
Colin Todhunter
The Strategy of Tension Towards Russia and the Push to Nuclear War
Kevin Zeese - Margaret Flowers
US Empire on Decline
Ralph Nader
Ahoy America, Give Trump a Taste of His Own Medicine Starting on Trump Imitation Day
Robert Dodge
Eliminate Nuclear Weapons by Divesting from Them
Laura Finley
Shame on You, Katy Perry
Weekend Edition
March 16, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Michael Uhl
The Tip of the Iceberg: My Lai Fifty Years On
Bruce E. Levine
School Shootings: Who to Listen to Instead of Mainstream Shrinks
Mel Goodman
Caveat Emptor: MSNBC and CNN Use CIA Apologists for False Commentary
Paul Street
The Obama Presidency Gets Some Early High Historiography
Kathy Deacon
Me, My Parents and Red Scares Long Gone
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Rexless Abandon
Andrew Levine
Good Enemies Are Hard To Find: Therefore Worry
Jim Kavanagh
What to Expect From a Trump / Kim Summit
Ron Jacobs
Trump and His Tariffs
Joshua Frank
Drenched in Crude: It’s an Oil Free For All, But That’s Not a New Thing
Gary Leupp
What If There Was No Collusion?
Matthew Stevenson
Why Vietnam Still Matters: Bernard Fall Dies on the Street Without Joy
Robert Fantina
Bad to Worse: Tillerson, Pompeo and Haspel
Brian Cloughley
Be Prepared, Iran, Because They Want to Destroy You
Richard Moser
What is Organizing?
Scott McLarty
Working Americans Need Independent Politics
Rohullah Naderi
American Gun Violence From an Afghan Perspective
Sharmini Peries - Michael Hudson
Why Trump’s Tariff Travesty Will Not Re-Industrialize the US
Ted Rall
Democrats Should Run on Impeachment
Robert Fisk
Will We Ever See Al Jazeera’s Investigation Into the Israel Lobby?
Kristine Mattis
Superunknown: Scientific Integrity Within the Academic and Media Industrial Complexes
John W. Whitehead
Say No to “Hardening” the Schools with Zero Tolerance Policies and Gun-Toting Cops
Edward Hunt
UN: US Attack On Syrian Civilians Violated International Law
Barbara Nimri Aziz
Iraq Outside History
Wilfred Burchett
Vietnam Will Win: The Long Hard Road
Victor Grossman
Germany: New Faces, Old Policies
Medea Benjamin - Nicolas J. S. Davies
The Iraq Death Toll 15 Years After the US Invasion
Binoy Kampmark
Amazon’s Initiative: Digital Assistants, Home Surveillance and Data
Chuck Collins
Business Leaders Agree: Inequality Hurts The Bottom Line
Jill Richardson
What We Talk About When We Talk About “Free Trade”
Eric Lerner – Jay Arena
A Spark to a Wider Fire: Movement Against Immigrant Detention in New Jersey
Negin Owliaei
Teachers Deserve a Raise: Here’s How to Fund It