By Len Port
The dissolution of the Portuguese government following the resignation of Prime Minister António Costa is not expected until mid-January.
According to the latest reports, the speaker of parliament said on Friday that parliament would “continue to scrutinize” the Socialist government until it is dissolved.
Portugal’s President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa has called for a general election, for March 10, 2024, following Mr. Costas’s sudden resignation amid a corruption scandal.
Mr. Costa, Portugal’s prime minister since November 2015, resigned because of a major investigation into his administration’s handling of concessions for lithium mining and a hydrogen project.
The Portuguese Prosecutor’s Office has been investigating Mr. Costa and several members of his cabinet for alleged crimes of active and passive corruption, prevarication, and influence peddling.
On Tuesday this week, Mr. Costa announced his resignation in a televised statement just hours after prosecutors detained his chief of staff over the corruption allegations.
“The duties of the prime minister are not compatible with any suspicion of my integrity,” he told a televised press conference. “In these circumstances, I have presented my resignation to the President of the Republic.”
When the prime minister met with the president to inform him of his decision he said his conscience was clear, but that he would not stand for another term as prime minister or leader of Portugal’s Socialist Party.
He said that he totally trusts the justice system and has promised to collaborate with it over the scandal. “I want to say eye to eye to the Portuguese that my conscience is clear of any illicit or censured act,” he said.
In accepting Mr. Costa’s resignation, President de Sousa summoned consultations with the various political parties. Some observers had expected the president to call not only for the dissolution of government but to propose a date for a new general election.
This crisis comes at a particularly awkward time as parliament is due to vote on Portugal’s 2024 budget later this month.
In addition to Mr. Costa’s chief of staff, Vitor Escaria, four other people, including a business consultant, have been detained, according to the prosecutor’s office. They are due to appear shortly before a judge.
About 140 detectives reportedly searched many residential and government premises, including that of Mr. Costa and the infrastructure and environment minister, João Galamba, and municipal offices in Sines.
With the “green transition” in mind, the European Union wants to reduce its imports of lithium and other raw materials from China, Africa and South America.
Europe’s increasing demand for electric cars highlights Portugal’s valuable lithium reserves in the north of the country and a huge green hydrogen project in the historic coastal town of Sines in the district of Setubal south of Lisbon. The projects have been highly controversial and provoked environmental protests.
This developing story will be updated
Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa was first elected President of the Portuguese Republic in the first round on January 24, 2016, earning 52% of the votes cast, replacing Aníbal Cavaco Silva, who served the limit of two five-year terms. A former Law professor, journalist, and political TV commentator, he is the leader of the opposition Social Democratic Party (PSD), governing in cohabitation with the leader of the Socialist Party (PS) Prime Minister António Costa. A former member of the European Parliament, he has been a career politician in and out government since the 1970s. In Portugal, according to the Constitution, the head of state has limited authority, beyond veto power and dissolving the Parliament if a crisis occurs.
Len Port, born in Northern Ireland, worked as a news reporter and correspondent, mainly in Hong Kong and South Africa, before moving to Portugal many years ago.