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26 August 2014

“Guess who’s back?” was the sentiment of the headlines in last Friday’s Portuguese newspapers. They’re talking about former prime minister António Guterres, who is going to be one of the candidates for the next Portuguese presidential election happening in 2016.

But let’s rewind a little: Guterres – a leading figure in the Portuguese Socialist party in the 1990s – was elected as prime minister back in 1995 and had a very successful first term in office. However, his re-election in 1999 wasn’t as successful and two years later, after his party faced a crushing defeat in local elections, he resigned from Portuguese politics and wasn’t heard of again until securing a cushy UN post in 2005.

This kind of thing seems to happen in Portugal a lot. Portuguese political figures who are recognised and praised on the international stage seem to fail to achieve anything remarkable domestically.

Take the example of the current president of the European Commission José Manuel Barroso. He gave up being prime minister of Portugal after only two years in office and nominated a successor who only lasted five months, forcing early elections and the unnecessary spending of tax-payers’ money. Interestingly, there have been rumours recently that just like Guterres, Barroso may be one of the other candidates for the oncoming Portuguese presidential elections – the latter will leave his position at the European Commission in October this year.

If Guterres wins the presidential election, he will succeed current president Cavaco Silva – who he also followed as Prime Minister back in 1995. If it sounds a little confusing, that’s because it is – not many other nations display this kind of inter-party cronyism. Nostalgia is an intrinsic part of Portuguese culture but we tend to blank out crucial moments of our history – we forget political failures and shortcomings that it could be very useful to remember.

Regardless of their international status and achievements, we shouldn’t forget that both Guterres and Barroso left the country adrift when they were supposed to be steering it and keeping it afloat. If they decide to return to Portuguese politics, they need to achieve meaningful reforms and not just live in the nostalgic glow of former glories.

Carlota Rebelo is a researcher for Monocle 24.


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