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Portugal’s Socialists formalise Costa successor as leader

By AFP - Jan 08,2024 - Last updated at Jan 08,2024

Portuguese Socialist Party leader Pedro Nuno Santos delivers the closing speech during the 24th Portuguese Socialist Party Congress in Lisbon on Sunday (AFP photo)

LISBON — Nine weeks out from snap elections, Portugal’s ruling Socialist Party (PS) on Sunday formalised Pedro Nuno Santos as their new leader in place of Antonio Costa, who quit as prime minister and party head in November amid a corruption investigation.

Costa led the EU member state for eight years but stepped down on November 7 owing to a probe into his administration’s handling of energy-related contracts. 

He had been reelected in January 2022, with the Socialists also capturing an absolute majority in parliament — a rare feat among Europe’s left-wing parties.

Santos won the support last month of 62 per cent of party members and is now targeting a poll success on March 10.

“The enormous responsibility of writing a new chapter in the book of PS governments and the country’s development falls to us,” Santos said as he wrapped up a speech to a party congress in Lisbon before the watching Costa.

Santos, a 46-year-old economist from the party’s left-wing, had himself resigned from Costa’s government in December 2022 during an earlier scandal involving a 500,000euro ($534,000) severance package paid to an executive at state-owned national airline TAP.

Santos had also served as the secretary of state for parliamentary affairs in Costa’s first government and played a pivotal role in enabling the Socialists to come to power in 2015. He had long been seen as Costa’s successor.

Also Sunday, the main centre-right opposition Social Democratic Party (PSD), was to sign a coalition agreement in the second city of Porto with two small right-wing parties, including the CDS-PP, with which it governed between 2011 and 2015.

Since then, the conservative landscape has been disrupted by the emergence of far-right Chega and the right of centre Liberal Initiative (IL) who in the 2022 elections managed to net 20 seats between them.

Most recent opinion polls have the PSD and the PS neck and neck but the right could return to power with support from IL and Chega.

If Chega’s party led by Andre Ventura is cast in the role of kingmaker after the elections that would represent a major rupture for Portuguese democracy, 50 years on from the revolution which ended 48 years of fascist dictatorship and 13 years of colonial wars.

 

Influence peddling 

 

Crisis hit Portugal in early November after a series of arrests and searches led to the indictment of Costa’s chief of staff and infrastructure minister, Joao Galamba on allegations of influence peddling.

The Prosecutor’s Office then said Costa himself was the subject of a separate judicial investigation.

Costa immediately announced his resignation. 

The Observador newspaper on Friday reported Costa notably faced accusations of having participated in drawing up a land planning law benefitting a company which planned to build a mega-data centre near the southern port of Sines.

In November, Costa said that the duties of prime minister were “not compatible with any suspicion of my integrity”.

On Sunday, Santos said that “it is very important to separate politics from justice. We must respect the work of the judicial authorities”.

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