February 20, 2019 / 7:13 PM / 4 months ago

Portuguese PM withstands no confidence motion in parliament

Portugal's Prime Minister Antonio Costa drinks water after his speech during the debate of a motion of censure at the parliament in Lisbon, Portugal February 20, 2019. REUTERS/Rafael Marchante

LISBON (Reuters) - Portugal’s minority Socialist government of Prime Minister Antonio Costa on Wednesday survived an opposition motion of no confidence lodged over a recent wave of public sector strikes.

The motion, fielded by the conservative CDS-PP party last week and seen as largely symbolic because the Socialists are backed in parliament by the far-left Communists and Left Block, was rejected by a 115-103 margin in the 230-seat parliament.

Portugal, which faces a general election in October, has seen various public sector walkouts and street protests in the past few months, from nurses fighting for better salaries to firefighters and police officers protesting inadequate funding.

The Socialists are far ahead of other parties in opinion polls, though still well shy of a parliamentary majority.

“The strikes reveal a government unable to maintain social peace,” CDS-PP leader Assuncao Cristas told parliament before the vote. The CDS-PP was part of the previous centre-right administration, whose painful austerity campaign during Portugal’s 2011-14 bailout caused widespread strife.

Earlier on Wednesday, the leader of one of Portugal’s main nurses’ unions began a hunger strike to demand better pay and working conditions while criticising the authorities for clamping down on the strike, declared “unlawful” by the prosecutor general’s office on Tuesday.

Defending his government’s record, which includes lower taxes, wage and pension increases, Costa said the vote “only showed that the right is still a minority” in Portugal.

Finance Minister Mario Centeno previously labelled the increase in strike action as “absolutely normal” in a growing economy that was making workers more demanding even as the state increased spending.

The Socialists and their allies have reversed some austerity steps while maintaining budget discipline to reduce the deficit and keeping growth rates at above the euro zone’s average in the past two years. Unemployment has dropped to 16-year lows.

Editing by Andrei Khalip/Mark Heinrich

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