Portugal to hold snap election – the second in two years – after PM quits

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The Guardian

Portugal will hold a snap parliamentary election – its second in as many years – on 10 March, the president has announced after Tuesday’s abrupt resignation of the Socialist prime minister amid a corruption investigation.

In an address late on Thursday, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa said he would disband parliament, where the Socialist party has a majority of seats, only after the final vote on the 2024 budget bill, due on 29 November. The house approved the bill on first reading on 31 October.

Rebelo de Sousa made his decision public during a national televised address after he met with the nation’s Council of State, an advisory body made up of former politicians and other veteran public figures of renown. This came after he had met with the leaders of the parties in parliament on Wednesday.

Rebelo de Sousa said allowing lawmakers to pass the budget would enable the government “to meet the expectations of many Portuguese” and deploy EU recovery funds in projects.

He said the government will remain in power for now, but that the election was needed to provide “clarity and direction to overcome an unexpected void that surprised and disturbed the Portuguese”.

The budget includes lower income tax rates for the middle class, social benefits focused on the poorest and a 24% jump in public investment to spur slowing economic growth.

By law, an election needs to be held within 60 days of the publishing of the presidential decree dissolving parliament.

Prime minister António Costa, a Socialist, has led Portugal since 2015 and won a landslide election just last year.

But he stepped down as PM on Tuesday after prosecutors detained his chief of staff in an investigation into alleged illegalities in his government’s handling of lithium and hydrogen projects.

Prosecutors said Costa was also the target of a related investigation. He has denied wrongdoing.

Some of those detained in the investigation appeared before a Lisbon court on Thursday. They were suspected of crimes of corruption and influence-peddling, prosecutors said.

Since coming to power in 2015 in the aftermath of a debt crisis and international bailout, Costa has presided over a period of strong economic growth during which his successive governments quashed the budget deficit and reduced the debt burden, winning praise in Europe for sound fiscal policies.