* Allegations of irregularities in obtaining degree
* Portuguese bond yields rose briefly
* Government austerity faces test in court
By Andrei Khalip
LISBON, April 4 A senior Portuguese cabinet
minister close to the prime minister resigned on Thursday in a
sign of political unease before a court ruling that could
threaten government austerity policies.
Parliamentary Affairs Minister Miguel Relvas cited "lack of
spirit" to carry on as the reason for his resignation. He gave
no further explanation for a decision he said had been taken
jointly with Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho weeks ago.
One of the cabinet's most unpopular figures, Relvas had been
responsible for coordinating government strategy and oversaw
relations with parliament. He has faced allegations he obtained
his university degree without completing course credits.
Relvas quit a day after the government defeated a
parliamentary no-confidence motion by opposition Socialists over
austerity required by an EU/IMF bailout.
Although rejected easily , the motion united all the
opposition, adding to concerns budget-tightening measures may be
overturned by the Constitutional Court.
That ruling is expected any day now. The court has declined
to provide any estimates, but some local media say it could come
out on Friday. Most analysts expect the court to reject some
measures, but not derail the whole budget adjustment course.
Portuguese benchmark 10-year bond yields rose
by about 10 basis points to 6.46 percent after the resignation
but then eased to 6.42 percent.
Expresso weekly said on its website an education ministry
probe into Relvas's degree accelerated his decision to go.
Relvas has faced popular anger, with protesters, especially
students, interrupting his speeches several times with songs and
shouts. Hand-made signs saying "Go and study, Relvas!" abounded
during anti-austerity rallies in recent months.
Political analysts say Relvas's fall is not necessarily
negative for the government due to his unpopularity, and may
prefigure a bigger reshuffle after the court ruling.
"He was the main public opinion problem for the government
but the overall context is so negative that the executive's
popularity won't rise because of his exit," said Antonio Costa
Pinto, a political analyst at the University of Lisbon.
Portugal is in its worst recession since the 1970s.
"With this resignation and the constitutional court decision
looming, the government may very well be tempted to take the
opportunity to make a full-blown reshuffle," Costa Pinto said.
He compared Relvas's demise with similar cases in Germany,
where two ministers stepped down in the past few years because
they were found to have plagiarised their academic theses.