Portugal was plunged into a political crisis yesterday after the prime minister quit following a showdown with parliament over his new austerity plan, a move that boosts the chances that Lisbon will seek a financial bailout.
Portuguese Prime Minister Jose Socrates tendered his resignation late on Wednesday, saying he could not govern without support after all opposition parties voted against his minority government’s latest spending cuts and tax hikes.
The austerity plan — the government’s fourth in a year — was aimed at avoiding the need for a bailout of an estimated 50 billion euros (US$70.4 billion) for Portugal to help it meet debt repayment obligations, a package similar to those granted fellow eurozone members Greece and Ireland last year.
“This crisis will have very serious consequences in terms of the confidence Portugal needs to enjoy with institutions and financial markets,” Socrates said after presenting his resignation to Portuguese President Anibal Cavaco Silva.
The events in Portugal threaten to derail a two-day EU summit that was to start yesterday in Brussels that had been expected to finalize the bloc’s response to a year-long eurozone debt crisis.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said yesterday she regretted that parliament had rejected Socrates’ austerity plan, describing it as “correct and courageous.”
Silva will hold meetings with all political parties today and the government will retain full powers at least until then, the president’s office said in a statement.
That leaves Socrates and his government in place with full powers for the duration of the EU summit, although as an outgoing leader, his authority is severely restricted.
The president can now invite parties with representation in parliament to form a coalition government or, in the more likely scenario, he can dissolve parliament and call snap elections.
If he opts fresh elections, the vote must be held at least 55 days after they are called.
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