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Portugal's president inflames left with return of centre-right PM

Francisco Leong, AFP file picture | Portugal’s outgoing Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho has been reappointed and tasked with forming a new right-leaning coalition

Portugal’s president put coalition leader Pedro Passos Coelho back as prime minister on Thursday, igniting protests from leftist parties that could quickly challenge a new centre-right government in parliament where they have majority control.

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Passos Coelho’s coalition won the most votes in an Oct. 4 general election but fell short of a majority in parliament, leading the Socialist opposition to try to form an alternative leftist government.

A protracted political stand-off could blight Portugal’s nascent economic recovery just a year after it emerged from an international financial bailout.

President Anibal Cavaco Silva, in a televised speech, announced he had named caretaker Social Democratic prime minister Passos Coelho to head a new government and he rounded on the left, saying he was “profoundly sorry” they had put political considerations ahead of the country’s higher economic interest.

Socialist leader Antonio Costa has launched talks with the far left Communists and Left Bloc to form an alternative government, promising to ease back austerity. Together, the three leftist parties obtained a majority in parliament in the election and they quickly responded to the president’s decision.

“I give this government a week or a week and a half,” said Left Bloc lawmaker Filipe Soares. “The president will have to take the responsibility for the instability that will be created by this decision.”

Socialist lawmaker Joao Soares said: “It is strange that the president has named somebody as prime minister who cannot guarantee a stable government.”

Cavaco Silva said it was now up to lawmakers in parliament to decide on the new government’s programme, which must be presented in 10 days. If it is rejected in parliament, the government will collapse.

The president signalled he could not support a government including the Communists and Left Bloc because of their opposition to the euro currency. “A future for Portugal outside the euro would be catastrophic,” he said.

Passos Coelho’s government launched harsh austerity and huge tax hikes during the past four years under a bailout, which plunged Portugal into a three-year recession.

Socialist leader Costa has said that the Communists and Left Bloc would now back European commitments to budget consolidation, marking a big shift from the past.

Analysts have said they doubt the moderate Socialists would be capable of forming a government with the two left parties because of large policy differences.

(REUTERS)

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