Portugal’s president has scheduled early elections for March 10 2024, following the resignation of the country’s PM amid a corruption investigation.
President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa will dissolve parliament after it approves the 2024 budget on November 29.
Opposition parties have pressed for new elections, while the governing Socialist Party suggested appointing Mário Centeno, former finance minister and the Bank of Portugal’s current governor.
The rather late timing of elections is a gesture towards the Socialist Party, to permit it to find new leadership after the resignation this week of PM António Costa.
Costa will serve as caretaker prime minister until the election.
Rebelo de Sousa announced the decision in a nationwide televised address after he met with the Council of State, an advisory body made up of former politicians and other public figures.
He met with party leaders in parliament earlier on Wednesday.
The Socialist Party will elect a new general secretary in mid-December, then organise a party congress by early January.
There will be 124 days between Costa’s resignation and the new legislative elections, with government formation possibly taking a period of time after.
While some Socialist Party figures criticise prosecutors for their actions leading to the fall of Costa’s government, former minister Eduardo Cabrita warns their opponent is the political Right, not the justice system.
MEP Pedro Silva Pereira expressed similar views.
António Costa is the subject of a corruption investigation into his interventions in business deals involving lithium, green hydrogen and the Sines data centre.
Costa says he was caught by surprise by the corruption investigation but promises to collaborate.
“As always, I have full confidence in justice and its functioning,” he said Tuesday.
Police arrested Costa’s chief of staff, Vítor Escária.
They also found €75,800 in cash in his office, hidden between books and wine crates. Escária’s office is located in the PM’s official residence.
Police also arrested the Socialist Party mayor of Sines, two directors of the “Start Campus” company, and a lawyer and consultant working for the company.
Costa had previously been suggested as a possible successor to Charles Michel as President of the European Council.
It is the second recent corruption scandal to rock Socialists in Europe, after Qatargate showed party members from Greece, Italy and Belgium may have been involved in another pay-for-influence scheme.