2021 Local Elections: Surprise in Lisbon, landslide in Cascais

Reading time: 7 minutes

On the 26th of September of 2021, every single Portuguese over the age of 18 had the opportunity to cast 3 ballots, one to elect its mayor (green), one to elect its parish council (white), and one to elect the members of its municipality assembly (yellow). In total, there were 3707 elections on this day and over thirty-five thousand people were elected across the three different local governing institutions. In no other electoral act in Portugal are so many citizens involved and elected as in the local elections the country has every 4 years.

Figure 1: The three balots of the local elections.
Picture by António Cotrim from Lusa

National Results

On the national level, the ruling Socialist Party (PS) won, for a third consecutive time, this year ‘s local elections, obtaining 37.1% of the national vote. The party elected 148 mayors out of 308. In second place and with a 32.1% share of the vote, came the main opposition party, the Social Democratic Party (PSD), electing 114 mayors. The remaining 46 elected mayors are from smaller parties or independent movements.

Despite the win for the government’s party (PS), at the end of the night, they had a net-loss of 12 mayorships while the main opposition party (PSD) had a net gain of 16.

Figure 2: National election results for every mayor’s race. Picture from Diário de Notícias

Cascais, the municipality of Nova SBE

              Our university is located right at the border of the Municipality of Cascais and all the students who live here have Carlos Carreiras as their mayor. Mr. Carreiras is 60 years old and has been mayor of Cascais since 2011. He was re-elected for a third time under a coalition called Viva Cascais which was supported by PSD and the People’s party (CDS), beating his main rival, Alexandre Faria, from the Socialist Party, by more than 30% points and winning 7 out of the 11 councilors. Viva Cascais also won all 4 of the Parish Councils. The Carcavelos e Parede Parish, where Nova SBE is located, will be presided by Nuno Alves. Contrary to Mr. Carreiras, Nuno Alves did not win a majority of the councils in the Parish (9 out of 19 mandates) so he will need to work with one of the 5 opposition parties to govern.

Figure 3: Carlos Carreiras, the Mayor of Cascais.
Picture from WSA

Figure 4: Nuno Alves, President of the Parish of Carcavelos and Parede.
Picture from União de Freguesias de Carcavelos e Parede
Figure 5: Electoral result in Cascais.
Picture from Expresso

Carreira’s program

On his program, Carreiras proposed several measures to prepare Cascais’s economy for the post-covid world. The three main ones are policies to support local businesses to transition to the digital economy, create a digital local currency, and use Cascais as lab to the introduction of a universal basic income.

With regards to mobility, the electoral program promises to maintain free public transport for every resident in Cascais, the creation of more bike lanes plus bike-sharing stations, and the continuation of the replacement of fossil-fuel powered buses with ones that are powered by either electric engines or hydrogen.

For housing, the program includes an investment of 160 million euros (paid by European funds) in the construction of 800 houses for low-income people. Additionally, the Convent of Saint Mary of the Sea, in Carcavelos, will be renovated to offer rent-controlled residences for college students.

As for the environment, the executive led by Carreiras pledges to reduce green-house gases emissions in the municipality by 55% until 2030 and promised that every citizen of Cascais will have a green space less than 400 meters from his or her house. Despite these promises, the opposition has accused the mayor of causing the destruction of hundredths of thousands of square meters of green areas due to the substantial number of new housing units being built over the last 4 years. On top of these accusations by the opposition, due to the possible construction of a massive residential neighborhood in the “Quinta dos Ingleses,” the green area right by Nova SBE with more than 4 thousand trees, is in danger of disappearing.

Additional proposals from Carreira’s electoral program are the creation of a fund of 2.5 million to finance an e-learning scheme for the unemployed, increase in the amount of charging stations for electric vehicles, and the attribution of 25 scholarships in universities located in the municipality of Cascais, Nova SBE being one of them.

Contrary to all the other 7 candidates who ran for mayor of Cascais, the program of Carreiras is the only one that is no longer online, as the campaign website has been shut down. Thus, the information previously mentioned is not easily accessible.

Lisbon, the surprise of the night

Before the election on the 26th of September, every single poll gave a significant advantage to the incumbent Mayor of Lisbon, Fernando Medina of the Socialist Party, to be easily re-elected. However, against all expectations, the former European Commissary for Innovation, Carlos Moedas, defeated Medina by less than 1% of the vote. Moedas led the Novos Tempos coalition, which was supported by PSD, CDS, and 4 other smaller parties. Although the former Commissary won the plurality of the votes, the Socialist Party and other left-leaning parties elected the majority of the councilors (10 of out the 17) and the deputies in the Municipality Assembly of Lisbon (41 of 75). This means the new mayor of Lisbon will have to negotiate with the opposition to successfully implement the electoral program promised to the citizens of Lisbon.

Figure 6: Carlos Moedas, the new Mayor of Lisbon giving his victory speech on election night. Picture from TSF

Moeda’s program

              One of Moedas biggest campaign’s promised was to offer free public transportation for people who are under the age of 23, 65 or older, unemployed, and handicapped. In addition to free public transport for some residents of Lisbon, the “Yellow-Bus” program would guarantee free transportation to school for children in primary school. Moedas also wants to expand the metro line in Lisbon by building new stations in Alcântara, Miraflores, and Algés. If you are a monthly subscriber to monthly public transportation pass, Moedas also wants to include the bike sharing planform in Lisbon, called Gira, in the bundle of methods of transport that you can use.

Although the new Mayor promised a lot to the users of public transportation, car users will benefit from parking meters that are 50% cheaper plus 20 minutes of free parking per day in the city.

              Another campaign promise was the exception of the municipal tax on the transaction of properties to buyers under the age of 35 who are buying their first house. This measure could save young home buyers thousands of euros in taxes. The municipality will also return 32 million euros in income taxes to its residents. However, these last two measures could be rejected by the opposition as they have been accused of benefiting wealthier individuals; this is supported by the fact that 60% of Lisbon residents do not make enough money to pay income taxes, and young first-time home buyers tend to be wealthier than younger people who are renters.

As for climate related policies, the Moedas is not as ambitious as the former Mayor, who had promised to cut emissions in the city by 70% until 2030. Despite these smaller focus on the climate crisis, his program includes a modernization of the flood preventing system of the city, the promotion of solar panels in buildings, and the gradual implementation of a “Pay As You Throw” system of garbage collection to prevent waste.

Additional proposals on Moedas’ electoral program are the creating of a grid of free Wi-Fi in Lisbon, the creation of cultural centers in every neighborhood of the city, and free health insurance for seniors.

Figure 7: Electoral result in Lisbon
Picture from Expresso

For the coming 4 years, both Lisbon and Cascais will have mayors from the center-right Social Democratic Party, although both Moedas and Carreiras were elected under an electoral coalition that involved other political parties. Whether or not the two politicians will be able to implement their electoral programs is impossible to know, but 4 years from now, all the Portuguese voters, including the ones from these two municipalities, will have the opportunity to scrutinize their local leaders with their vote, or even by running for office.

Sources: Expresso, Cascais24, TSF, RTP, SICNoticias, Publico, ONovo.

Afonso Monteiro

Hugo Canau

João Sande e Castro

André Rodrigues

Maria Mendes Silva

Palestinian Election

Reading time: 7 minutes

For the first time since 2006, Palestinian citizens were expected to exercise their right to vote in legislative elections initially scheduled for the 22nd of May 2021. In a complex geopolitical territory located at a crossroads between Africa and Asia and with a past of Western influence, the opportunity to express their voice in the polls is a rare occasion for Palestinians. As it has been seen in current events, these elections are expected to trigger reactions from the international community and neighboring powers, notably Israel.

Modern Palestine’s complex past

Although the region of Palestine has long been controversial, regarded as the Holy Land by Christians, Jews and Muslims, the State of Palestine dates back to the 20th century.

Between 1896 and 1948, due to Zionist movement [1], and later to flee prosecution across Europe during the Second World War. Hundreds of thousands of Jews re-settled on what was initially the Ottoman Empire and following the Empire’s fall, British Palestine, in a majorly Arab and Muslim populated area. The local Arab community, which started developing their identity as Palestinian Arabs, resisted the attempt of a national Jewish homeland, claiming the land was theirs. Arabs thought Britain would endorse them in return for their support against the Ottomans during the First World War [2], but Great Britain and France predicted instead an international division of the territory [3]. In 1947 and marking the fall of British rule, the United Nations (UN) proposed a partition plan to split the territory in two and grant the city of Jerusalem, disputed by both parties as their rightful capital, a special international status. While the Jewish community agreed to the plan, Palestinians feverishly opposed it, the scheme being interpreted by locals as “Europeans trying to steal their land”.

Figure 1: UN proposed division of territory between Israel and Palestine in 1947
Source: Vox

Two major conflicts in the 20th century were especially defining for Palestine. Firstly, the Arab-Israeli war (1948) opposed Israel to five Arab powers: Jordan, Iraq, Syria, Egypt and Lebanon, seeking to establish “a unified Arab Palestine”. Following the conflict, Israel controlled more than two-thirds of former British-ruled territory. Additionally, Jordan took over the West Bank while Egypt took control of the Gaza Strip. In 1964, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) was founded with the objective of forming an Arab state in Palestine, largely comprised of the territories that had previously been British dominated and would now be illegitimately occupied by Israel. The second major event was the Six Day War (1967), which again resulted in significant land losses for Palestine to the benefit of Israel, who took over the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, the Sinai Peninsula and the Golan Heights. Nonetheless, the PLO’s existence was recognized by the Israel through the Oslo Accords (1993), in exchange for Israel’s right to exist to be recognized by the PLO itself. Following these agreements, Yasser Arafat (PLO), Shimon Peres (Israel) and Yitzhak Tabin (Israel) were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, for their efforts to create peace in the Middle East.

Palestinians wish to establish a State in a part or in all territory that is now occupied by Israel. Today, the State of Palestine is officially recognized by more than 135 UN powers (but not by the United States and Israel) and includes parts of modern Israel as well as the Gaza Strip, along the Mediterranean Coast, and the West Bank, which is located west of the Jordan River, although no international consensus regarding the borders has been achieved. Around 20% of the Israeli population identify as Arabs. The West Bank and the Gaza Strip are home to a majorly Arab population, territories which are also disputed by Israel, although many Palestinians also live in neighboring countries like Lebanon.

Fatah, Hamas and the long-lasting division of Palestinians

For decades, Fatah, the major political party in the PLO, dominated Palestinian politics. Fatah leaders negotiated the 1993 Oslo Accords that handed limited control of Palestinian territories from Israel to the new Palestinian Authority (PA). Since then, they have led the government through successive crises and peace deals with Israel and international parties.

In 1987, however, the opposition party Hamas was created on the pretext that Fatah and the PLO were too compromised with Israel. Hamas disagreed with many of the deals, and soon came to be seen by many as a threat to peace in the region, a violent extremist group who did not accept the existence of Israel and actively seeked its destruction. In 2003, Fatah negotiated with Israel under US President Bush’s “roadmap for peace” – a plan to end conflict in the region by creating a stable Palestinian state alongside Israel, which Hamas opposed.

In the 2006 legislative elections, Hamas won a surprising victory. With 74 out of the 132 seats in the Legislative Council, it could take control of most government positions. In response, the US and Israel imposed economic sanctions on the Palestinian Authority. They hoped these would destabilize the government, leading to new elections.

The formation of a Hamas government, in which Fatah refused to participate, led to an increase in hostility between both sides. These tensions quickly turned into incidents of violence between the supporters of the two groups, leading to dozens of deaths.

Figure 2: Hamas demonstrators clash with Palestinian Security Forces in the West Bank
Source: The Eletronic Intifada

In early 2007, Fatah and Hamas signed an agreement to form a coalition government, in order to end violence in the streets and lift international sanctions against Palestine. However, it was just some months until Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Fatah’s leader, declared a state of emergency and dismissed the coalition, including the Hamas Prime Minister. Hamas, regarding the President’s actions as unconstitutional, formed an alternative government. A brief civil war erupted, with each party supported by different factions of the armed forces. These conflicts concluded with Hamas taking control of the Gaza strip, and Fatah having control of the West Bank.

Figure 3: Division of Palestinian State in the Gaza Strip, controlled by Hamas, and the West Bank, controlled by Fatah
Source: ResearchGate

Since 2007, many attempts have been made to mend the conflict. Disagreements over holding elections led legislative and presidential votes to be postponed in both territories. Numerous talks and attempted deals between the two parties were unsuccessful. Most recently, in 2017, Hamas and Fatah agreed to hold new legislative elections in 2018, but these never occurred. On the West Bank, President Abbas announced elections would be held in 2019, but then postponed them.

Palestinian Elections – Dream or Reality?

In 2021, Hamas and Fatah agreed to hold legislative and presidential elections once more, later scheduling them for the 22nd of May. However, it was not long until Abbas postponed both indefinitely, allegedly due to uncertainty regarding Palestinians’ access to polls in East Jerusalem. In fact, just as in the 2006 elections, while Israel has control of the area, it has issued no formal announcement on whether it will allow elections to take place.

This postponement has been widely criticized not only by Hamas, but also by future voters, especially those under the age of 34, who have not yet been able to exercise their rights. Some believe Mr Abbas postponed the elections by fear of not having enough support, as he has seen his popularity shrink in polls. Having led the country for a decade over his initial mandate, new younger faces are now competing against him even within his the party. Both Fatah’s party member Marwan Barghouti, who is currently in jail, and Nasser Al-Qudwa, who is the nephew of Fatah’s founder, will compete against Abba, being a symbol of a younger generation who seeks to reshape the party’s values. However, Fatah still holds some advantage over Hamas in election polls, partly due to the latter’s mismanagement of Gaza, who has seen three destructive wars over the last 10 years.

Figure 4: Mural painting in Gaza City calling on people to vote for the 2021 elections
Source: BBC

15 years later, these elections could symbolize a reunion of Palestinians with democracy.

The delay will cause a great disappointment among Palestinians, most of (whom) hoped it was time to end the dividiond and bring about a change.

Talal Okal, Gaza analyst

In light of the previous events, what will these elections mean? Will they mark a turning point in Palestine’s history, or is history just repeating itself?

[1] According to Britannica, Zionism is a “Jewish nationalist movement supporting the creaton of a Jewish national state in Palestine, the ancient homeland of the Jews. [..]. Though Zionism originated in eastern and central Europe in the latter part of the 19th century, it is in many ways a continuation of the ancient attachment […] of the Jewish religion to the historical region of Palestine, where one of the hills of ancient Jerusalem was called Zion.”

[2] McMahon–Hussein Correspondence.

[3] Sykes–Picot Agreement.

Sources: Britannica, History, BBC, Vox, Albawaba, Aljazeera, Reuters, Washington Post, Financial Times, Oxford Journals, Brandeis University Publication

Ana Terenas

Manuel Barbosa

Antonio Payan

Maria Mendes

Brazil, a story of socio-political divide

THE BACKGROUND: A (quick) political overview

Brazil’s past is no fairy tale. From 1964 to 1985, the country was governed by a military dictatorship. Although promised to last a few years, it took two decades for the nation to freely choose its leaders once again. The long years of authoritarianism left, however, a deep footprint difficult to cover in the transition towards democracy.

Instability is at the heart of a country whose motto reads “Order and Progress”. The men and women, that once promised to serve the country, have failed. Historically, elected presidents had a certain pattern: wealthy, full of promises’ mandates marked by economic distress but, mostly, corruption. The hopes (and fears) of the nation focused on Lula da Silva, a working-class man, that promised to save Brazil from corruption and poverty. In the latter, he saw a slight success, but in the former, he saw himself and his protected successor Dilma Roussef being involved in the greatest corruption scheme in Brazil.

In 2018, the elections shone a light on how Brazil had become divided. Those who remembered the dictatorship, feared the return of authoritarianism, while others had had enough of the system and rallied behind Jair Bolsonaro. In the end, Bolsonaro emerged as the 38th president with 55,1% of the votes. Now we ask ourselves how this once marginal political figure ended up winning half of the country’s trust, and how his influence evolved throughout the mandate and the current pandemic.

Source: Brasil de Fato, Bolsonaro greets demonstrators in Brasilia

THE CAUSES: What led Brazil to its current state?

I. A Never-ending Internal Battlefield

In 2017, Brazil was facing a record-breaking number of around 65.000 homicides; a country representing 8% of the world’s population accounted for 33% of all murders. This ever-growing trend of violence, stemming largely from drug gang rivalries, was further aggravated by the ill-management of security funds, which left police forces underpaid and underprepared. The established chaos fuelled police violence, including extrajudicial executions, which only undermined public security and further endangered the lives of police officers.

This incited support for the far-right candidate, who praised the armed forces and promised loosening gun laws and making the police force more affirmative. For many, this stuck a chord and Bolsonaro became a champion of law and order, most notably for a young core of supports, to whom the thought of oppression and violence of the military regime had faded into history.

At the end of 2019, Bolsonaro had seemed to uphold his campaign promise. Killings were down 19% from the previous year, reaching the lowest number since 2007. There were, however, doubts regarding his involvement in this feat, as the number had already begun to fall in early 2018 and the leader had signed an anti-crime bill at the end of 2019. Reports of a militia-run Rio de Janeiro – organized crime groups that control entry into neighbourhoods, run extortions and drug trade, i.a. – only seem to disprove this claim.

II. A Never-fully-honest Government

Though the war on violence gathered a large following, what secured Bolsonaro’s candidacy was the conviction of his strongest opponent, Lula da Silva, which barred him from the presidential race. The former president of Brazil was, however, only one of several convicted in one of the biggest corruption investigations of the recent ages, “Operation Car Wash”. It uncovered a laundry scheme that funnelled billions into politicians’ and big companies’ pockets. According to a Datafolha study, the general public’s faith in Brazilian institutions had eroded over the years, with trust in the presidency and congress falling below 40%. Bolsonaro seized this opportunity to emerge as an outlier and promised to end corruption.

Source: Agência Brasil, demonstrators take the streets to protest against Dilma Roussef’s government and the corruption scandal

Almost two years later, both the president and his family have been ensnared in corruption scandals. Most notably, his oldest son and former senator of Rio de Janeiro, Flávio Bolsonaro, was charged this past November of embezzlement, money laundering and criminal association.

The very probe, that shed light on the institutional corruption in Brazil via “Operation Car Wash”, has now wound down following pressure from parts of Congress as well as the Bolsonaro administration. The outbreak of the Coronavirus has only helped Brasilia in sweeping any talk of corruption under the rug.

III. A Never-stable Economy (in the heat of a pandemic crisis)

Social and political instability were not all that troubled the nation, which was coming out of the worst recession in its recent history. The economy had barely grown for almost a decade, incurring even in contractions. Both the commodities’ boom and tourism, one of the country’s largest economic motors, had collapsed. Inflation and unemployment had risen significantly, the former reaching 10.7%, in 2015, and the latter reaching a century-high value of 12.82%, in 2017.

Efforts of Bolsonaro’s administration to depart from the status quo of deep recessions were cut short as Brazil was hit severely by the global pandemic. Today, the country has the second highest death toll in the world and more than 2,000 daily deaths from Covid-19, which might be higher due to lack of reporting. In a country struggling with inequality, the disease has struck distinctly among social classes, affecting mostly people living in extreme poverty, who are less able to follow social distancing and other health norms. There are more than 14 million people unemployed, an astonishingly high number, since 40% of the workforce depends on daily wages to eat and survive.

Source: Market Watch, Workers bring the coffin of a police sergeant deceased from Covid-19 to the cemetery in Brasilia

At the beginning of the pandemic, a stimulus package of 50 bn$ was widely credited for Bolsonaro’s popularity and for boosting the economy. However, the president continued to dismiss and even mock health measures, while strongly questioning official statistics. He incited public disrespect of curfews and fired those who did not agree with him, such as the health minister.

Now, there is a new smaller stimulus package on its way. The package enables Bolsonaro’s administration to relaunch a cash transfer scheme to the nation’s poorest during the next four months, while limiting the impact on fiscal accounts, since investors are worried with debt rising above 90% of GDP. There are, nonetheless, questions as to whether they will be able to keep people from hunger.

IV. A Never-equal society and a Never-prioritized Environment

Bolsonaro’s mandate is full of controversies created by strong statements of the president against the LGBTQ+ community, black minorities, and women. His promise to make “Brazil safe for all its people” might not be real after all, as, socially, he turned out to be polarising, and excluding minorities. In addition, Bolsonaro and his government’s denialism of climate change remains unchanged. As widespread fires hit the Amazon forest last summer, the president intends to exploit deforested lands, rather than preserve them, which will severely affect indigenous communities.

Brazil: A Never-united country?

Source: LatinAmercian Post, A country divided in two by Bolsonaro

As the 2022 presidential elections draw ever closer, it seems the division that plagued the country four years ago has only deepened. Despite unfulfilled promises and mismanagement of the ongoing health crisis, Bolsonaro has managed to maintain a significant following.

New developments have seemed, albeit, to undermine his re-election campaign. Former president Lula da Silva has been released by the supreme court of justice, which decided to overturn graft convictions. While the decision has yet to be finalized, it has set the scene for a contest between opposite sides of the political spectrum in next year’s presidential race.

As the emerging candidate once said, “We all know that, all over the world, never did the workers’ win a single thing without fighting, without perseverance.” It remains to be seen who the nation will be fighting for.

Sources: BBC, Britannica, CSIS, Financial Times, Folha de S.Paulo, Forbes, the Guardian, Latin America Reports, Open Democracy, Vox, FRED, Human Rights Watch, Abc News

Afonso Monteiro

Pedro Estorninho

Maria Mendes

Italy’s New Hope: Mario Draghi

Reading time: 7 minutes

On the 2nd of June of 1946, following Mussolini’s fascist regime, Italy finally became a democracy. Since then, 67 governments and 30 Prime Ministers (PM) rose to power, some more than once, in only 75 years, hinting at the instability of Italian politics.  

This past January, the country was confronted with yet another political hardship. Italia Viva’s leader Matteo Renzi disagreed with the government’s allocation of over 200 billion euros of EU funds, intended to tackle the country’s crises. Renzi wanted the funds to be spent in new infrastructure projects, while former PM Giuseppe Conte was planning on appointing a panel of experts to direct the allocation. In response, Renzi withdrew two ministers from Conte’s government, making him lose majority in Parliament. Unable to form a government, Conte resigned. Hence, President Sergio Mattarella decided to appoint a technocrat, Mario Draghi, to form government, as calling for early elections would not be advised during a pandemic. 

Source: Reuters, Mario Draghi leaving after a meeting with Italian President Sergio Mattarella at the Quirinale Palace, in Rome, this February 

What awaits Mario Draghi?  


Draghi is confronted with an Italy in deep economic recession amidst a global pandemic. The country was the first in Europe to impose a nation-wide lockdown last March and during the second surge, in the Fall, Italy reached almost 100 thousand virus-related deaths. Falling behind its vaccination program, blaming delivery delays, and having a national pandemic plan that has not been updated since 2006, Italy urgently needs a structural reform. 

Draghi’s main objective is to accelerate the national vaccination program. He stated that his «main duty […] is to fight the pandemic with all means and safeguard the lives of our fellow citizens». For this purpose, he intends to mobilize the armed forces, civilian volunteers, and civil protection units. As such, the civil protection agency’s chief and Italy’s COVID-19 commissioner were already fired. The latter was substituted by an army logistics expert. Additionally, the PM hopes to enact reforms on the health sector such as strengthening local hospitals and community health services.  

How to survive coronavirus: Italy shows the world
Source: Unicef, a pedestrian in Piazza Del Duomo, a place normally crowded with many visitors. 


Italy is living its worst recession since World War II, with 10,6% real GDP growth rate in 2020, one of the lowest in the euro zoneThe unemployment rate is around 9,84% and expected to rise after a possible lift in employment dismissals ban. Although it has been decreasing recently, youth unemployment marginally increased to 30,9% in 2020. Several EU Member States worry about the country’s public debt, 4th largest in the world, estimated to rise to almost 160% of 2021’s GDP. Italys economic issues are structural: real GDP per capita has barely grown in the last two decades; the labor force shows low productivity and fails to integrate young workers; the business environment is unattractive and uncompetitive, owing to the red tape, legal and tax systems affecting corporations. 

The root of Italy’s most recent political crisis, the allocation of 200 billion euros in EU funds  will be Draghi’s challenge. The EU program, NextGenerationEU, is heavily directed towards the digitalization of the economy, the ecological transition, R&D, and healthcare. The PM stated he would follow the previous government’s proposal, assuring that it would be strengthened with more details «in the coming weeks». 

Mario Draghi has major economics functions in his curriculum. A graduate from “La Sapienza” University in Rome, he received his PhD from MIT, where he was mentored by renowned economists such as Solow and Modigliani. He was Director General of the Italian Treasury and, in 2006, became Governor of the Bank of Italy, until being nominated President of the European Central Bank (ECB), in 2011.  

Draghi’s background led him to the forefront of European monetary policy regulation until 2019, carrying the weight of the 2008 financial crisis and following sovereign debt crisis. On the 26th of July 2012, as ECB President, Draghi proclaimed three words that defined the turning point in the crisis, reclaiming investors’ trust: “Whatever it takes”, implying that the Euro would sustain any backlash regardless the cost.  Now, he assumes responsibility over a highly fragile Italian economy.  


I. Asking a technocrat for help… for the fourth time 

Draghi is the fourth technocrat in three decades invited to lead. In Italy, citizens elect Parliament representatives, body composed by the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate. The creation of a government occurs when the new chambers take office and elect their Presidents. It is albeit often difficult to form a government because parties do not always obtain a majority, obliging the leading forces to negotiate. These resulting coalitions have often been ephemeral. It is in times of crisis and when elections are too risky, such as in January, that Italy’s President may appoint an expert. 

Although many share Renzi’s belief that “[Draghi] saved Europe, he will save Italy”, past experiences with technocrats have not always been positive. The first was formal central banker Azeglio Ciampi (1993-1994) amidst a recession and following a large political corruption scandal. Shortly after was the International Monetary Fund’s executive director, Lamberto Dini (1995-1996). Finally, in 2011 and due to political failures, former European commissioner Mario Monti was appointed. His policies included pension reforms and strong austerity measures, which did not resonate with the electorate. Although the economy did somewhat improve, his elections campaign was not good enough to save him and his coalition, coming in fourth place in the following elections.  

Source: Istat, Real GDP over time, according to each technocratic government 

Almost all major figures and parties support Draghi’s government, which includes both experts and professional politicians. Overall, many consider resorting to technocratic governments temporary solutions which forget underlying problems such as corruption, leading to constant political instability. Additionally, some consider such governments to be anti-democratic, as they include figures which have not been chosen through representative democracy. According to an EU survey in 2019, 82% of Italians claim they “tend not to trust” their politicians, a sentiment which has materialized into increased support for the anti-establishment 5-star movement.  

II. More than a technocrat  

Mario Draghi is not any technocrat. Having been ECB’s President, he is known for his negotiation and rhetoric skills. His appointment comes at a time when Europe is facing difficult administrative challenges. According to The Economist’s Ben Hall, he «gives the French leader a partner in Rome who is a powerful and credible advocate of closer European integration just at the time when Germany prepares for a change in leadership». 

Draghi’s global respect is one of the main differences from his technocratic predecessors. Being largely credited for saving Europe during the sovereign debt crisis, not only does he intend to save Italy from this crisis, but to introduce structural and social measures. 

III. Bigger dreams 

In fact, the new PM’s aspirations for Italy are not limited to solving the economic and health crises. He plans on instating several structural reforms, for instance in the legal system, education, and public administration, as well as adjusting Italy’s tax system. While addressing Italy’s Senate, he stressed the importance of closing salary gaps and strengthening the welfare system, with the intent increasing the number of women in the labor force. Lastly, he paid special attention to Italy’s younger generation, stating that a vast number of talented people led the country to seek more prosperous futures over the last 20 years, which can be achieved by improving training and career prospects nationally.  

With an existing history of technocratic governments failing to resolve important structural issues, some might feel skeptical regarding Draghi’s success probabilities, defending that a career politician might be more suited for the position of PM. Nevertheless, his career path has demonstrated strong political, negotiation, and rhetorical skills, bringing hope to a country in need of deep reform in many fronts. Will Mario Draghi’s appointment bring real change, or is history just repeating itself? 


AP News, Barrons, Bloomberg, CNBC, DW, Economist, Euractiv, European Central Bank, European Comission, Eurotopics, Expresso, Financial Times, Guardian, Jacobin, NBC News, Político Europe, Reuters, SIC Notícias, Statista, The Local, U.S. News 

Ana Terenas

Maria Mendes

Hugo Canau

The Collapse of the Portuguese Empire – The War

The Portuguese colonization of Africa in its contemporary form, dates from the second half of the 19th century, with the Conference of Berlin (1884-85) being a pivotal moment. The colonization of the African territories was marked from its inception by violence against the local populations, including military operations in Angola and Mozambique (the so-called “campanhas de pacificação”) that lasted well into the 20th century.

Ever since the Monarchy, colonization was a vital part of the self-image of the country and its elites. The rising nationalism, common to all sides of the political spectrum, often stressed the historical mission of the empire. The First Republic substituted the Monarchy after the revolution of 1910, but Republicanism was also nationalist, and consequently drawn special attention to the African Empire. Maintaining the colonies was one of the reasons for Portugal to intervene in WWI.

The Republic fell in 1926 to a military coup d’état and was replaced by a Military Dictatorship, which evolved, in 1933, to a different form of dictatorial rule – the Estado Novo, under the leadership of António Oliveira de Salazar, until 1968. The Estado Novo was a conservative, catholic, anti-liberal (socially and economically), anti-communist and anti-parliamentarian regime. There is disagreement among historians as to whether the concept of “fascism” accurately describes the regime. The lack of mass political participation and involvement from the population signifies that this regime was not sustained on a popular movement, a characteristic that largely contributed to the success of fascism in Germany and Italy. Furthermore, after the end of WWII, Salazar relaxed some characteristics of his regime that resembled more extreme ones, in order to maintain his governance.

Salazar supported a colonial Portuguese rule, often referring to the Portuguese empire as an extension of Portugal (“Portugal goes from Minho to Timor”, as the regime propaganda stated). This implied a unitary territory despite the geographical distance and a union between the people that inhabited those lands. This notion of a unitary nation that the regime maintained is important in understanding why the government harshly handled any type of dissent.

The craving for independence in the territories under rule from the European powers reached its highest point in the aftermath of WWII. Local nationalist movements grew, and independence was given or conquered, first in Asia and then in Africa, where most countries became independent in the 1960s. The Portuguese colonies were similar in that the independentism grew in those decades, aided by a growing native elite that was educated in Europe and exposed to these new ideas, as well as contacted with the opposition to the dictatorship.

The first armed conflict was the annexation of the Indian colonies. The British left India in 1947, granting independence to India and Pakistan. Until 1954, the French would peacefully hand over their colonies to the Republic of India. The only remaining European power present in the region was Portugal, with the control of three cities – Goa, Daman, and Diu. After years of failure of political decisions (the idea of a referendum in the Portuguese territories was vetoed by some figures of the regime, and negotiations with India failed) and violent border clashes, Nehru opted for a military annexation in December 1961. The Portuguese troops were urged to fight until death, but the Governor-General decided to surrender instead, due to the lack of weapons and men to repel the better equipped and larger Indian army. The occupation had a large moral blow on the rest of Portugal. The regime would not recognize the former Portuguese territories as part of India until its fall in the democratic revolution of 1974. The events in India showed the regime would not drop the idea that the colonies were an integral part of Portugal and prelude the armed reaction in Africa.

The war came to the African colonies in the beginning of the 1960s. Nationalism and independentism grew in popularity as more and more countries became independent in the continent. Even the UN formally recognized the right to auto-determination of colonies in 1960. At the same time, the Cold War would  influence these events. As the Portuguese regime became more and more isolated on the international stage, the two superpowers (USA and USSR) aligned themselves with the resistance movements. These movements were formed in the 1950s in Guinea and Angola, while the Mozambican ones were formed at the beginning of the 1960s. The USSR gave support to PAIGC (Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde), MPLA (Angola), and FRELIMO (Mozambique), while the USA supported FNLA and UNITA (Angola). There were competing ideologies in the independence struggles. As with most conflicts around the world in the second half of the last century, the Cold War provided a decisive background. The superpowers’ involvement was also clear in the civil wars that occurred after independence.

It is beyond the reach of this article to provide detailed information on the military side of the war, which was a particularly bitter and violent conflict. This article seeks to understand how the war was a decisive aspect in the fall of the Estado Novo. It caused a lot of structural problems to the regime and to the Portuguese society. Its consequences were political and ideological, but also material, economic and human.

The war contributed to the international isolation of the regime and brought to the surface many tensions within it. In the 1960s, signals of opposition became clearer, even though Salazar managed to maintain its grip on power. In 1961 there was a failed military coup d’état to depose Salazar and over the years the opposition to the regime grew mostly due to opposition to the war. At the same time, the war presented an enormous economic cost to the nation, imposing major expenditures to the state and limiting the economic growth in the 1960s, which was crucial for a country that was trailing behind the economic and social development of its European counterparts. Furthermore, the human costs were also massive counting more than 8,000 deaths and thousands of psychologically and physically wounded, in the Portuguese Empire.

The regime was further disturbed by Salazar’s declining health which led to his substitution by Marcello Caetano, in 1968. An expectation of social reforms and liberalization of the regime was created. Indeed, as soon as he became President of the Council (equivalent to the current position of Prime-Minister), he had a series of initiatives to increase the communication with the people, to positively influence public perception of the regime and to create a feeling of proximity. However, censorship, repression, and political suppression remained. In that sense, the so-called Marcellist Spring failed.

The regime faced an ongoing crescendo of social tensions in the university students’ community and within the ranks of the military. The political opposition was more organized and vocal in its protests. The great protests by university students after 1968 were in large part motivated by hostility to the war. Even more dangerous to the government, between 1969 and 1974, in the ranks of the military, desertions, protests, and insubordination became common. This unrest showed the atmosphere of opposition against the war that led to the creation of the Armed Forces Movement and, eventually, the overthrow of the government.

Regarding the war and its potential resolution, Marcello Caetano was stuck between a rock and a hard place. On one hand, he firmly believed that ending the war abruptly was the wrong decision as he dreaded the idea of having the pro-independence factions taking control of the colonies. Even if he wanted to transition away from the war by negotiating with the pro-independence factions, he would likely not have the support of Américo Thomaz (the President of the Republic) and other figures of the regime,  risking the loss of his power. On the other hand, Marcello Caetano seemed to know that the tensions brought about by the war were a powder keg waiting to explode. And so accordingly, they did, on April 25th, 1974.

Documentary Suggestion: “A Guerra”

Sources: Arquivos RTP; Diário de Notícias; Sábado; Judith E. Walsh, A Brief History of India, Lambert Mascarenhas, Goa’s Freedom Movement; Luís Pedro Melo de Carvalho, O Movimento dos Capitães, o MFA e o 25 de Abril: do Marcelismo à Queda do Estado Novo; Pamela Peres Cabreira, Contra o Estado Novo: manifestações e organizações em Portugal no período marcelista (1968-1974); Encyclopedia Britannica; Wikipedia

Rui Ramalhão

Afonso S. Botelho

João S. Castro

João Baptista

João Oliveira

The Rise of Far – Right in Portugal

Portugal left wing history

The Third Portuguese Republic was implemented after the Carnation Revolution on April 25th, 1974. This movement overthrew the fascist regime that had been in power since 1933, established by António de Oliveira Salazar, the main figure of Estado Novo (“New State”).

The first democratic elections in 1975 were won by the Socialist Party (PS). Thereafter, the only parties with a majority in Parliament or with a respective prime minister were the socialists or the social-democrats (PSD). Other parties would only be part of the government through coalitions. Historically, Europe is categorized as moderate inclining towards social democracy.

In recent years, Europe, Portugal included, have witnessed a rise in radical right movements. Portugal’s main figure is Chega! (Enough!), a rightist, populist movement led by André Ventura. Although not the first party located further right of the Portuguese political spectrum, it was the first to gain notoriety and a seat in Parliament. The former National Renovating Party (PNR) is a self entitled far right party with very narrow public adherence.

André Ventura

 André Ventura, born on January 15th, 1983, had a brief passage through the seminary (an attempt to follow priesthood), which fits some of his catholic conservative statements. Ventura ended up pursuing Law at Nova University of Lisbon, graduating with a 19/20 GPA. The PhD thesis  he presented at Cork University criticized the stigmatisation of minorities and expressed his concerns on the expansion of repressive powers from the state.

In 2001, he joined the Social Democratic Party but only gained visibility in 2017 as a sports commentator on national television. This led to an invitation inside the party to run for the local elections of the Loures municipality. As a candidate, Ventura claimed that Roma people residing in Loures “live almost exclusively on public subsidies” and “think they are above the Rule of Law”. His declarations and hostile position over various social matters hindered the relationship with PSD leading to his disaffection from the party in 2018. In

April 2019 he founded Chega!. Representing it, André Ventura ran for the 2019 legislative elections (providing him a seat in Parliament), and is currently running for the 2021 presidential elections.


“The Portuguese far right party” built its marketing as an anti-system movement – it claims the establishment is corrupt and does not have the people’s best interests in mind. The party seeks to establish a new and Fourth Republic by, among other measures, implementing a new constitution, as can be read in its manifesto (2019). The latter is intensely economically liberal and endorses a minimalist State on, for instance, education and healthcare services. Its political program includes fiscal reforms: the abolishment of double taxation on corporate income; reduction of VAT; and the adoption of a “flat income tax”.

On the other hand, Chega is strongly conservative on societal issues, which include motions such as the prohibition of gay marriage, of LGBTQ+ propaganda, abortion or any situation that “violates human integrity”. Furthermore, its program introduces chemical castration as a legal punishment for convicted pedophiles, among other severe penalties. Chega recently affiliated to ID (Identity and Democracy), a European parliamentary group composed of nationalists, far-right parties and eurosceptics, namely Alternative for Germany, National Rally (Marine Le Pen) and Lega Nord (Matteo Salvini). The group stands for national differentiation and administrative preservation of autonomy, alternatively to a European selfhood. Chega first presented a candidate for the european elections in 2019, leading a coalition named Basta!. It failed to elect a MEP.

The latest October 2020 legislative poll, conducted by Aximage, placed it with 5,4% of vote intentions. This consistent growth was confirmed by the regional elections in the Azores. The party gained 5% of votes, fourth most voted. Two regional MPs were elected and with no clear majority of votes in the elections, these two will be fundamental for the configuration of the new regional government. The party has gained recognition and consolidated its political force.

source: Jornal Luso

source: Jornal Luso

Electorate’s Profile

Studies conducted to identify the typical voter of a far-right party in Europe concluded  he is a young poorly qualified male. Generally, he is a worker or a small businessman, if not unemployed.

In Portugal, the first study to provide an identification of this typical voter was a poll published last February by ICS/ISCTE. Given the European context, it came to contrasting conclusions. The typical radical right elector in Portugal has qualifications above the mean of the Portuguese population, mainly middle-class, namely office employees living in metropolitan areas. Furthermore, the electorate is evenly split between male and female. According to CESOP, the voters of the party previously voted for the two main parties or abstained.

Reasons for Widespread Growth

Populism is a political approach, which strives to appeal to ordinary people who feel their concerns are disregarded. The 2008 crisis and subsequent stagnation significantly worsened the middle class. Their substantial tax burden and the subsidies paid to those who “do not respect the Rule of Law” lure them to Chega, as proven in the ICS/ISCTE poll.

André Ventura often appropriates the popular contempt with a dividing logic of “us” against “them”. There is a large share of society which, after being constantly immersed in scandals and corruption at the highest levels of Public Administrations, feel as if “all politicians are the same”. André Ventura’s concept is appealing to the average Portuguese, who possess a sense of distrust towards politicians in general, thus embracing the anti-system propaganda. This could be why Chega has developed a hostile environment with most parties. This, paired with its image as a xenophobic and racist party, influences other parties to distance themselves, afraid of an electoral backlash.

Cultural liberalization and imigration are pointed out as troubles by Chega. In its manifesto, there are many references to an ideological proselytism: the attempt to change people’s beliefs. This concept is referent to LGBTQ+, BLM and other movements, which Chega frequently lessens, attracting social conservatives and clashing with leftists.Likewise, Chega seeks to strain the process of granting Portuguese citizenship, standing fiercely against the recent Nationality Law, eventually enacted. Illegal immigration is adressed by Ventura, although the Portuguese electorate cannot relate to that issue as well as larger European countries: contrarily to what happened to countries such as Germany, Greece or Italy, the Portuguese borders have only had some minor predicaments with refugees, never a worrying affair. Therefore, regarding intercultural matters, the main argument brought up by the party has been directed towards the Roma people and others living on subsidies. The leader of the party often accuses them of not complying with Portuguese laws, women’s and marriage rights, as well as respect for authority. During the pandemic, Ventura supported a special confinement for a Roma community outside a small city that refused to be subject to testing.

Nonetheless, the main explanation regarding the rampant rise of this party is the spotlight offered by the media in general, and the wideness of Ventura’s presence in social media. There have been weekly constant mentions and polemics around his name and party. Correspondingly, that has been the method chosen by European far-right parties which appears to be successful. Also, the fact that mainstream parties commonly criticize him helps the branding of the party as the solution for a damaged structure (given the “system” is against him, he should then be considered “anti-system”).

source: jornal “SOL” - “Portugal is not racist” movement against BLM movement

source: jornal “SOL” – “Portugal is not racist” movement against BLM movement


Portugal is not an exception anymore. In 2018, it belonged to a short list of countries in the EU without radical right representation in the Parliament. Today, it is another example of a substantial expansion of such a movement in a compact period of time. Nonetheless, it is important to say that Chega is not the typical far right party, for the latter (former PNR) has failed and lost vote intention to the earlier. The death penalty, a more extreme proposal, was presented and failled to gather internal support. Some claim the party is imploding due to an even more radical branch that starts to label Chega as another conventional party.

Erdoganism: The Republican Sultan

TURKEY’S PAST represents prosperity and pride for the Turkish people. The vast Ottoman Empire which spread across the European, Asian and African continents fell just before the end of World War I. Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, former Turkish president, led Turkish people against invaders during WWI and, in 1923, implemented a secularist and independent republic. Turkey joined NATO in 1952 under the Democratic Party, which many saw as the “saviour of Islam”. Due to its closeness to religion, the party was overthrown in 1960 following a coup by the armed forces. In recent decades, Turkey has long been entangled in internal divisions between leftists and rightists, the latter often associated with nationalist islamists.

Political ascendance

Already from a young age, Erdogan was known for his oratory skills defending the Islamist cause. During his studies at Marmara University’s Faculty of Economics and Administrative Sciences, from where he graduated in 1981, Erdogan embodied the cause of nationalist students’ movements. He was part of the islamist Welfare Party, which was later banned following accusations of religious meddling in government affairs. His Justice and Development Party (AKP), which he co-founded in 2001 and persists to this day, was also imposed financial penalties for anti-secularist behaviour in 2008.

Erdogan was first elected for a political office in 1994, as mayor of Istanbul. He was elected then prime-minister in 2003 and later, in 2014, rather than being chosen by the parliament, he was elected president of Turkey by universal suffrage, for the first time in the country’s history.

Internal Policies

In 1998, Erdogan was convicted for inciting religious hatred after reciting a poem that compared mosques to barracks, minarets to bayonets, and the faithful to an army. In fact, he progressively started promoting authoritarian and islamist initiatives. He prohibited alcoholic beverages in the city’s cafes as mayor of Istanbul and later lifted the headscarves ban in public institutional places. He also unsuccessfully attempted to criminalize adultery.

Erdogan as mayor of Istanbul. Source: Wall Street Journal

Erdogan as mayor of Istanbul. Source: Wall Street Journal

Erdogan frequently expressed pronatalist views, against reproductive rights, birth control, and abortion. The government has thus promoted financial incentives to encourage family growth, such as a severance payment to newly married women who leave their job within a year after their wedding.

Furthermore, Erdogan’s control of religion in society largely passes through his policies on education. Under the AKP, the Directorate of Religious Affairs (Diyanet) plays a central role, and the Imam Hatip Okulları (IHLs), which used to be religious courses, are now equivalent to secondary schools. In 2011, the AKP decreased university entry barriers to IHL students. In 2018, those constituted 12% of the total secondary school population, an increase of about 3.4 percentage points since 1997.

In 2013, a large-scale US$100 billion corruption scandal, involving two of Erdogan`s sons, culminated in the arrests of Erdogan’s closest allies, with some political figures being dismissed from office.

In that same year, the Gezi Park protests erupted in Istanbul and later spread across the country. This represented an anti-government uprise against growing authoritarian and islamist initiatives. In fact, a law penalizing insults towards the head of state, in practice since 1926, had rarely been used before Erdogan. Until 2016, more than 1500 people have allegedly been investigated, kept in custody or imprisoned under this law. Critics accuse the party of significant control of the media and public opinion, oppression of political opponents, and an overall violation of freedom of speech.

In 2016, the military orchestrated an unsuccessful coup to strip the president off his title. In response, Erdogan ordered mass arrests and show trials. In 2017, he won a referendum, backed by 51% of voters, which strengthened his constitutional competence. This granted him the power to directly appoint top public officials, including ministers and vice-presidents, to intervene in the legal system, and possibly remain in office until 2029, in addition to abolishing Turkey’s parliamentary system.


As mayor of Istanbul, Erdogan strived to overcome the city’s main problems: setting up new recycling facilities, developing natural gas projects to clean the air, and introducing hundreds of kilometers of new pipeline to ensure water supply. Macroeconomic reforms attracted more foreign investors, which allowed for more infrastructure projects such as the construction of bridges, passageways, and freeways. Concerning Erdogan’s early years as prime-minister, Zafer Caglayan, the former Economic Affairs Minister, described them as the «Turkish Miracle». In fact, for most of the 2000s, Turkey was Europe’s fastest growing economy, reaching an annual growth rate of 7%. Between 2002 and 2012, the country’s Real GDP increased 64%, while GDP per capita increased 43%. Additionally, as prime-minister, Erdogan implemented reforms and increased investment in infrastructure such as roads, airports, and a high-speed train network.

However, since 2013, the «Turkish Miracle» has been fading as Turkey has been witnessing the abandonment of soft power. In 2014, growth fell to 2.9% and unemployment rose above 10%.

Turkey’s intervention in several international conflicts, such as the Israeli-Palestinian and the Turkish-Kurdish, also contributed to its economy flagging. Between 2016 and 2017, several rating agencies downgraded Turkey’s sovereign credit ratings, expressing their concern about rule of law and the pace of economic reforms. With investors’ confidence declining since 2016, US sanctions imposed against Turkey in 2018, and staggering inflation, the economy reached a recession at the end of the year, urging the government to implement measures to alleviate pressure on the population. The lira dropped by 40% against the dollar, while industrial production slowed and housing sales dropped. Since then, the party has been increasingly losing control over the economy, with significant consequences during the 2019 local elections, losing both the capital Ankara and Istanbul.

III. Foreign Policy

Regarding foreign policy, Erdogan has focused on defending the Islamist cause worldwide, intervening in several international conflicts, which he perceives as beneficial for national security. He sees himself not only as the savior of Muslims but also as of «all the aggrieved people in our region, all the oppressed in the world», as he stated in his victory speech in 2018.

The conflict with the Kurds has led Turkey to occupy north-eastern Syria. Firstly, Erdogan’s aim was to stabilize the regions in the country controlled by rebels who wanted to end Bashar al-Assad’s regime, a strategy to stop floods of refugees to cross the border. But since Kurdish forces have controlled Syria’s northern region, taking advantage of the withdrawal of US troops, Erdogan pushed them out.

Simultaneously, a war of words between Greece and Turkey has been escalating over Mediterranean waters. Erdogan signed a deal with Libya’s unbacked government, allegedly granting Turkey´s access to Greek waters and gas reserves. In August this year, Turkey sent a ship to exploit hydrocarbon offshore, deepening the tensions. The EU, although having abandoned negotiations with Turkey in 2016, accusing it of basic human rights violations, has appealed for dialogue. To this day tensions between Turkey and the block still persist, notably regarding the refugee crisis.

Concerning the east, Turkey has seen its ties with China strengthen, signing bilateral agreements on health and nuclear energy, while ignoring the Muslim Uighurs’ modern concentration camps. On top of that, Erdogan has shown support for repressive regimes, such as Nicolas Maduro’s.

Source: Daily Sabah

Source: Daily Sabah


Since his rise to power, Erdogan’s grip of Turkey has been increasingly marked by authoritarian policies. Initially praised for turning around the country’s economy, Erdogan’s disregard of the rule of law and human rights have put him under fire in the international scene.

But his focus on social values is two-sided: they both reflect his personal views as well as the source of where he harnesses support. In July of this year, the Turkish President ruled that the 1,500-year-old Byzantine Hagia Sophia, a former cathedral turned mosque which until recently served as a museum established by Ataturk, would once again become a mosque. The move, which sparked international outcry, served as a strategy for Erdogan to ensure his popularity, as he avidly relies on his conservative supporters. In fact, the government has been criticized for mishandling the Coronavirus pandemic as the mayors of Istanbul and Ankara, Turkey’s two largest cities, accused it of covering up the real numbers. This precarious and uncertain situation, alongside a frail economy, raises questions on the future of Erdogan’s controversial leadership.

Abe’s Lasting Legacy

Shinzo Abe was born in 1954 in Tokyo. He grew surrounded by political affairs as he was the son of a former member of the House of Representatives and minister of foreign affairs (1982-1986) and grandson of a wartime cabinet minister who became prime-minister of Japan (1957-1961).

Political Ascendence

In the early 1980s, Mr. Abe joined the right-wing Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and is currently a member of the Mori Faction of the latter, one of the most influential and conservative party’s factions.

Mr. Abe was first elected to the House of Representatives in 1993 and integrated the government for the first time in 2005 as Chief Cabinet Secretary.  He is also a member of the Nippon Kaigi (“The Japan Conference”) organization, Japan’s largest ultra-conservative and far-right organization whose foundational aims are revising the Japanese constitution, promoting patriotic education, and incentivizing official visits to Yasukuni Shrine, a temple that pays tribute to Japanese citizens who lost their lives fighting for Japan in major wars, including WWII.

Mr. Abe also led the Japanese Society for History Textbook Reform that brought highly controversial changes to history textbooks, namely by trying to devalue the atrocities committed by Japanese forces in the Korean peninsula and China during the 20th century. Mr. Abe’s stances on Japan’s history damaged multiple times his popularity near its electorate.

Mr. Abe’s first term as prime-minister occurred between 2006 and 2007. He replaced the existing prime-minister Junichiro Koizumi as leader of the LDP and became, at the age of 52, the youngest post-war Japanese prime-minister. In his first term as prime-minister, his popularity reached rock bottom not only for having to deal with corruption scandals involving two of his government ministers but also for opposing the possibility of a Japanese female monarch ascension to the throne. Following the high rates of disapproval, Abe resigned in 2007 as head of government and president of LDP alleging health issues.

However, in 2012, he reappeared as a candidate for LDP’s presidency and was re-elected. For his run, he used the motto “Take back Japan” to show his approach to the economic, demographic, and sovereignty constraints.

During the following 8 years as head of government, Mr. Abe was able to produce dramatic changes at all levels in Japan. He amended almost all the 103 articles of the heavily American written Japanese constitution, weakening the protection of individual rights, reinforcing the importance of public order, and conceding great power to the army. In 2013, he announced a five-year plan of military expansion described as “proactive pacifism”. A year later, Abe took the initiative to reinterpret Japan’s constitution to grant the right for “collective self-defense”, which allows the Japanese Armed Forces to aid allies under attack, whereas the previous interpretation of the constitution only allowed the use of force for self-defense purposes.

In 2014, to reverse Japan’s decreasing tendency of birth rate, Mr. Abe unsuccessfully allocated millions of dollars to the “marriage support program” that helped single individuals find potential mates.

By the end of 2014, the government was able to pass a bill in the House of Representatives that established which information constituted a state secret and increased penalties for those who leak such information. The approval of such law turned out to be highly controversial, making the Cabinet Office’s approval rating fall below 50% for the first time.

In 2018, his public image suffered another hit after he held a drinking party with LDP lawmakers while disastrous floods were affecting western Japan. Also in 2019, controversy grew around the cherry-blossom-viewing party, an official government event, given accusations of growing extravagance. When confronted by the opposition about the party’s list of attendees, the Cabinet Office shredded the documents.

This year, following the high disapproval rates on the government’s management towards the Coronavirus crisis, Mr. Abe announced his resignation as prime-minister and president of LDP, alleging, again, health issues.

Foreign Policy

Concerning foreign policy, Mr. Abe followed a “proactive search for peace” approach. With the American withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, Japan took a leadership position to save the agreement, strengthening Japan’s alliance with Donald Trump. Diverging from the protectionist policies that were common in the Japanese economy, Mr. Abe created an 11-nations’ free-trade zone.

Shinzo Abe also made an effort to expand Japan’s relationship with China, holding a historic phone call with Xi Jinping, the Chinese leader, in 2018. The reinforcement of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, also settled financial and developed agreements with China.

Strategic alliances with rising powers such as Australia and India were also celebrated by Abe, specifically in military collaboration.

Source:  Bloomberg

Source: Bloomberg

Some critics suggest that Abe failed by deteriorating relations with the Japanese neighbors, South Korea – a relationship that experienced its peak in 2012, just before his mandate. Beside supporting right-wing nationalists who defended Japan’s colonial legacy in the peninsula, in October 2018, Abe declared a trade war with South Korea when the Japanese companies that used slave labor from Korea, during World War II, were sentenced to indemnify the harmed. This led the Japanese-South Korean relationship to reach rock bottom.

Economic Policy

In 1992, the Japanese economy suffered the burst of an economic bubble, which led the country into the Lost Decade – ten years of economic stagnation. The Japanese government attempted to revive the economy with extensive public works programs, which failed to stimulate growth and greatly increased public debt. In the early 2000s, the Bank of Japan started using quantitative easing to spur economic growth, with success, but these policies failed to generate healthy levels of inflation.

Therefore, when Shinzo Abe entered office in 2012, he faced a deflation problem that threatened to stagnate the economy again and high levels of public debt. Mr. Abe thus developed an economic policy strategy that became known as Abenomics, consisting of “three arrows” (a reference to an old Japanese story where three arrows separately could be broken, but together were strong).

The first arrow consisted of monetary policy, aimed at reaching 2% inflation. The plan was to intensify the Bank of Japan’s quantitative easing program to increase the money supply and thus spur inflation.

The second arrow consisted of fiscal policy, namely several stimulus packages implemented over the years. These were mostly composed of public works and various forms of incentives for private investment. Several of Mr. Abe’s budgets have also included increases in military spending and cuts on foreign aid, according to his economic as well as foreign policy objectives.

The third arrow was broadly defined as a strategy for economic growth. In 2013, Abe announced the first measures in the third arrow, which consisted of cuts in economic regulation, particularly around the country’s largest cities. These measures disappointed analysts and the stock market, who were hoping for structural reforms, namely in the labor market and business law. In 2014, Abe announced more comprehensive reforms, including corporate governance reform, more openness to immigration, liberalization of the health sector, and a cut in corporate taxes to under 30%.

Abenomics have achieved moderate success. Since Mr. Abe entered office, Japan has seen modest GDP growth – between 0,5% and 2,5% per year. But the 2% yearly inflation target was only achieved in 2014, averaging around 0,5% over Mr. Abe’s term. Also, the Japanese public debt remained very high – 237,6% of GDP, in 2017.



Successor’s Challenges

Yoshihide Suga was chosen on September 14th as the new prime-minister, and now faces the economic and demographic challenges Abe’s administration failed to tackle. At present, Japan’s birth rate is one of the lowest in the world with the country’s population shrinking by 400.000 people per year, which threatens the sustainability of future pensions and public health care systems. The Fitch Ratings have also predicted the Japanese public debt will surpass 240% of GDP by 2021, due to the current pandemics.

Mr. Shinzo Abe leaves behind an important legacy, but certainly not an easy one.

Source:  Inside Asian Gaming

Source: Inside Asian Gaming


Sources: BBC, CNN, Financial Times, Foreign Policy, NewStatesman, New York Times, The Economist

Manuel Barbosa - Manuel Barbosa Raquel Novo - Raquel Novo

Afonso Botelho - Afonso Botelho

Populism: Will it stay in lockdown?

In periods of economic distress, politicians who find scapegoats for the current situation are usually acclaimed by citizens that once might have felt discouraged to vote. However, the rhetoric used works as an attempt of dividing the population in native members and non-native members and minorities (cultural populism); honest members of the working class and big business owners (socio-economic populism) and victims of corruption and politicians (anti-establishment populism). Given that these arguments exploit societal concerns, they may pose a threat to democracy, by claiming that their opponents do not have people’s best interests in consideration and by excluding from “the people” each and every person whose support is not guaranteed.

In the past three decades, this trend has risen exponentially, even in countries with the most solid economies. According to Tony Blair’s global institute, in 2018, there were 20 countries with presidents or prime ministers that were considered populists, as shown in the graph below. Besides this, 40% of Asia’s population is governed by Populists.

Source: Tony Blair Institute for Global Change

Source: Tony Blair Institute for Global Change

Will populism thrive in the pandemic?

Before the global health crisis, the forecasts for 2020 were the continuous bet in dealing with inequalities and environmental issues. Although companies are increasingly investing in Environment, Social and Governance (ESG), that is not governments’ main concern anymore. The world leaders are trying to prevent the spread of the virus while attempting to reduce the economic implications that will arise. It is difficult to measure populists’ responses to this crisis as each country is adopting different policies and their role depends on whether they are in the office or in the opposition.

The graph presented above illustrates the idea that the rise in populism was hastened by the 2008 financial crisis. Research conveys that there is a significant correlation between the level of unemployment and the popularity of these parties. The virus has also helped uncover structural problems, such as an inefficient health care system or a dysfunctional government, which are likely to sustain populists’ arguments.

Hungary’s Prime Minister, Viktor Orban, is an example of a politician that is availing the pandemic to reinforce its position. After declaring a state of emergency, the government started to attribute the blame to illegal migration and eventually arrested students that were legally studying in the country, just for protesting. By taking immediate measures, Mr. Orban gained trust from the population, which allowed him to extend his mandate to an indefinite period to deal with the current crisis.

Another politician who has climbed in polls is Angela Merkel, for imposing mass testing and effective lockdown restrictions, thus controlling the death toll. Jair Bolsonaro, on the other hand, has made declarations underestimating the threat of the virus, just like Donald Trump, and has not taken any protective measures to ensure its civilian’s health, making him lose supporters.

In times of uncertainty, people look for the answers in their leaders. They prefer someone that actually deals with the situations and takes action from the beginning, whether he is populist or not, given that both populist (Victor Orban) and non-populist (Angela Merkel) politicians have surged in approval ratings.

Another factor that might influence the polls is data manipulation that misrepresents the hard times that the country is facing, or even the control of media pluralism. Besides the fact that populists’ arguments dismantle their opponents with ad hominem fallacies, some of these politicians live in countries with a low level of democracy, allowing them to promote their ideals even further, as it is depicted in the graph below.

Source: BTI Transformation Index

Source: BTI Transformation Index

Will populism stay in lockdown?

Despite the ability that populism has of growing and marching to brand new territories during economic and political setbacks, there are also some particularities in the pandemic that may constrain it.

Firstly, the strategy that most non-populists are using is the inclusion of messages of union in their speeches. The virus affects all social classes, races, ethnicities and orientations and there is no benefit in exclusion as everyone is working towards the same goal.

Secondly, the only way of tackling a problem is by not ignoring its existence. It comes as no surprise that the electorate demands experienced leadership with concrete goals and actions instead of mere comments, when faced with a recession. The anti-intellectualism promoted by some populists may also be in danger as it is not that appreciated when the entire world is waiting for the creation of a new vaccine and relying on doctors and governments to reduce the potential aftermath.

Lastly, with the increase in the level of unemployment and the decrease in aggregate demand, countries will not be able to survive by themselves. In the case of EU members, they will need financial aid from the European Union to combat this crisis, trying to fight the economic fallout. Thus, the nationalism nurtured by populists may no longer be welcome.

What can we expect?

There could be a significant decrease in populism in Europe if European citizens recognize EU’s assistance and realize the importance of inclusion and union, disregarding the priorly felt nationalist sentiments.

There is also the possibility of a second wave of infections. The sudden increase in cases would prove that the previously taken measures were inefficient and would decrease population’s support of their leaders. As the majority of the politicians haven’t got a secure spot in the office, some current populists might lose its power. However, they usually last longer in the government than the rest of the people and this might be an opportunity for a new brand of populists to arrive with an improved rhetoric that meets the new economic challenges.

The German clash with the EU

In 2015 the German Constitutional Court received a request from a group of 1750 german citizens, raising some doubts about the public debt purchase program undertaken by the ECB near its member states, claiming this to violate article 123 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. The article states that the ECB does not have the power to directly finance its member states, either through credit concessions or direct purchase of public debt. At the time, the ECB argued the validity of their operations given the legal support from the European Court of Justice.

On the 5th of May of the present year, the German Constitutional Court analyzed once more the 2018 response from the Court of Justice of the European Union in relation to the doubts raised in 2015 by a group of German citizens, and demanded that the ECB deliver, within a 3 months deadline, an analysis of the proportionality of its monetary policies. That is, the German Court does not question whether the monetary policy undertaken by the ECB violates article 123 of the TFUE, it rather wants to infer whether the public debt buy program complies with the principle of proportionality to which the ECB is obliged to stick. The German judges consider that the monetary policies led by the ECB are followed with disregard towards the consequences that those policies may have, and that this approach constitutes a violation of the principle of proportionality. Until the report is delivered, the German Constitutional Court  has used its power to prohibit the Bundesbank (the German central bank) from buying any more foreign debt and it has even allowed the Bundesbank to sell the securities it is holding, if it wishes to do so.

Germany being the strongest economy of the European Union, the decision taken by the German Constitutional Court represents a serious drawback in the monetary goals established by the ECB. The decision gets even more preoccupying given that currently all Europe is combining efforts in trying to tackle the major economic crisis striking European economies.

While the German Constitutional Court claims to have power over national institutions, the CJUE already condemned the Court`s decision claiming this to seriously affect the European monetary policy strategy and the latter not to have the right to jeopardize or to contradict ECB measures that are backed by the CJUE, given that the principle of proportionality was always taken into account. CJUE also claims precedence in matters that involve the European Union and, therefore, does not acknowledge the legitimacy of the decision taken by the German Constitutional Court. Isabel Schnabel, member of the executive committee of the ECB, said that the public debt buy program will continue to happen, “regardless of the decision of the German Constitutional Court, given that CJUE has exclusive jurisdiction over BCE and its actions”. The fact that European legislation is above national legislations was not a part of treaties, it merely came into play in 1964 when the European Court of Justice (ECJ) decided so.


Is this the first time that a member state clashes with EU justice?

This is not the first time there is a clash between national courts and European law. A few countries have sought to mitigate this by enshrining the primacy of EU law in their constitutions. And most national constitutional courts have, at some point, declared that, based on article 6(3) of the Treaty on European Union, EU law takes primacy over national law as long as it doesn’t violate the human rights protected by their national constitutions. Constitutional courts have addressed these conflicts in different ways.

One alternative is to interpret constitutional law more broadly, so as to accommodate European law. For example, in 2011, the Greek Council of State recalibrated its interpretation of article 14(9) of the Greek Constitution. This article had previously been understood to prohibit owners of media corporations from applying for government contracts in other areas. But the Council of State decided that, according to the European principle of proportionality, this interpretation was doing more than what was necessary to ensure the objective of the law: transparency in public contracts.

The second alternative national judges have is to interpret European law in accordance with their national constitutional law, assuming the former cannot contradict the latter. This is based on the idea that the national constitution protects certain rights and freedoms that cannot be violated by any law, local, national or European. Few cases like this have appeared so far, but several national supreme courts, namely in Germany, Italy and Spain, have asserted that they have the power to review European law in this way and check if it complies with their constitutions.

A third possible alternative is for national judges to convince the Court of Justice of the European Union to change its interpretation of European law, so that the new interpretation is compatible with their national constitution. For example, in Taricco I, the CJEU held that the statutes of limitations in the Italian penal code violated European law, because they harmed EU financial interests (1). The Italian Constitutional Court then asked the CJEU for an opinion, arguing that complying with their decision would force the Italian penal code to contradict the Italian constitution. The CJEU granted their point and clarified their decision in Taricco I in a more relaxed way.

The fourth alternative national judges have is disobedience, or non-compliance with European law as the CJEU interprets it. This is, of course, an option of last resort. It occurred, for example, when the CJEU declared that a Social Security rule in the Czech Republic that gave an old age benefit only to Czech nationals in Czech territory violated the rights of EU nationals from other member states living there. The Czech Constitutional Court decided it would not apply the CJEU decision and would allow the rule to remain unchanged. The arguments were that the CJEU had exceeded its powers and that the CJEU had failed to take into account the historical fact that that rule was related with the dissolution of Czechoslovakia.


While in many cases national and European justice reach a consensus, it is unavoidable that other cases, like the German Constitutional Court one, will continue to happen. Some consider that these persistent challenges towards European Law from national courts undermine the strength and credibility of the European institutions. Others say that the preference from European Law over National one was a severe and non-democratic imposition over its member states. Nonetheless, this is an important question that urges to be answered in order to better define the future of the European Union: What are the limits, if any, that Europe wants to impose over National Courts in their interference on European policies?

(1) The European Union is partly financed by a share of member states’ VAT. The statutes of limitations for fiscal fraud in the Italian penal code, in the CJEU’s opinion, did not give people enough incentives to not commit fiscal fraud, and therefore harmed the EU’s financial interests.

Sources: Euronews, Expresso, Observador, Renascença, EUR-LEX