Real Politics Made Virtual

Hated to the extreme

When José Sócrates became Prime Minister in March 2005, the country was a mess (which is not surprising; it always is 🙂 ). He got elected after the previous Prime Minister was kicked out of office by the former President — a prerrogative that Presidents have in Portugal. Since the return to democracy in 1974, just three Prime Ministers lasted more than one term in office (one with two terms of less of 2 years each, and not in succession; one was re-elected but just served half of the second term; and a third one actually lasted two and a half terms during 10 successive years, and is currently Portugal’s President). Re-electing a Prime Minister is a relatively rare occasion — most of the time, the Portuguese are fed up with their Government after less than a year, and try to get rid of it as quickly as possible (which more than often means creating so many strikes and protests and rallies against the Government that the President feels it’s best to give the citizens the chance to vote again). Cavaco Silva lasted ten years as PM mostly because he managed to channel European funds into a small Golden Age for Portugal with an incredible economic boom, a clever trick that assured his continued re-election; his successor, António Guterres, currently the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, mostly benefited from his predecessor’s astonishing economic boom to keep the citizens happy with his policy of “dialogue”, thus opposing his own politics to the energic style of ruling of Cavaco Silva, which became annoying to many. He was, however, unable to deal with the legacy of keeping the economy growing, or at least not making it worse. It’s fair to say that Portugal entered a financial crisis since the start of the millenium and never truly recovered from it.

So, a few years later, when Sócrates finally came to power, his priorities were to reduce the amount of expenses of the State and relaunch the economy, mostly with a very strong focus on technology (his party was always fond of information technology) and sustainability (he used to be the Minister for the Environment under the Guterres government). All went reasonably well until, of course, the world-wide financial crisis set in, and an already debilitated country showing just the first signs of recovery couldn’t handle an external crisis on top of all that. Naturally enough, everything collapsed, and Sócrates focused on “New Deal” policies instead — the textbook solution to deal with a financial crisis. With an election year in 2009, there was hardly enough time to see any real effects of this policy, and one could reasonably say that all carefully laid-out plans, whatever they were in 2005, were basically wasted, leaving just 10.5 million Portuguese quite furious with a Government that cannot work miracles, and demanding Sócrates’ head on a silver platter.

It’s quite hard to start a campaign within such a bad climate. In normal circumstances, Sócrates would have absolutely no hope to get re-elected: the Portuguese are absolutely unforgiving with their Governments and demand regular miracles all the time to keep their trust in their elected representatives (a trick that some politicians on local Town Halls have known to exploit; a few have been re-elected for over 30 years just by delivering miracles regularly). But he has a slight advantage: power struggles on the opposition rendered it weak and without a clear alternative. Still, any “regular” campaign would just be hypocrisy — nothing that he had promised in 2005 was done until 2009, and of course, the fact that there is still a world-wide crisis going on, doesn’t mean that the Portuguese voters will be slightly more forgiving. They won’t be forgiving at all.

Thus Sócrates, true to his principle that only better and more advanced technology will bring “miraculous” solutions, decided to hire Obama’s advisors and do a completely different style of campaign.

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