Portuguese Minister Resigns After Fires, President's Speech

Updated on
  • President made TV address after fires killed more than 100
  • Conservative opposition party CDS to present a censure motion

Portuguese Internal Administration Minister Constanca Urbano de Sousa resigned as forest fires that left more than 100 dead in a four-month period take a toll on the government.

Prime Minister Antonio Costa accepted the resignation, the premier’s office said in an emailed statement on Wednesday. Urbano de Sousa said that she wanted to be replaced in June, and the prime minister asked her to stay on, according to the resignation letter.

Constanca Urbano de Sousa

Photographer: Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images

Costa announced the resignation after President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa said in a televised address on Tuesday night that parliament will decide if it wants to keep the government in office. Conservative opposition party CDS had already called for the interior minister to resign following forest fires in June, and on Tuesday said it will present a censure motion in parliament after considering the government failed to protect its citizens.

At least 41 people were killed after hundreds of wildfires spread across the country on Sunday. In June, forest blazes in the Pedrogao Grande area left more than 60 dead, some of them in homes and in cars as they attempted to flee.

The president “expects the government will draw all the consequences from the Pedrogao tragedy,” President Sousa said in his speech on Tuesday, adding that reforms are needed. “Opening a new cycle will inevitably force the government to consider what, who, how and when better serves that cycle.”

Socialist Prime Minister Costa, who is halfway through a four-year term in office, had said on Monday that “this is not a time of resignations.”

Elections, Economy

“I’ll carry this weight on my conscience until the last day of my life,” Costa said in parliament on Wednesday as the country observes the second of three days of mourning following the latest deaths. “On Tuesday we’ll be here to debate the censure motion. The government is not insecure about the confidence it has in this chamber.”

Sunday’s fires happened exactly two weeks after the ruling Socialists claimed their biggest victory in local elections, taking 38 percent of the vote and 159 of the country’s 308 town halls. Tourism and exports have been boosting the economy and helping the government manage the budget deficit, which last year was the narrowest as a percentage of gross domestic product in four decades of Portuguese democracy.

Firefighters battle a forest wildfire in Coimbra region.

Photographer: Pablo Blazquez Dominguez/Getty Images

“If there is leeway in the budget, the priority should be forestry and fire prevention,” the president said on Tuesday night.

Parliamentary Backing

Costa’s minority government took office at the end of 2015 and has been supported in parliament by the Left Bloc, Communists and Greens, which hadn’t followed the moderate Socialists in backing European budget rules in the past. Costa has reversed state salary cuts faster than the previous administration proposed, while raising indirect taxes.

“The dimension of the tragedy requires the adoption of immediate measures and policies that can provide a response to those problems, and not use this as an excuse for parliamentary maneuvers that only aim to reach political and party objectives,” the Communist Party said in a statement on its website following Sousa’s speech.

The opposition Social Democrats, the biggest group in parliament, will back the censure motion, party leader Pedro Passos Coelho said in comments broadcast by television channel SIC Noticias.

Portugal’s 10-year bond yield rose 3 basis points to 2.35 percent on Wednesday. It’s down from 3.8 percent six months ago and from a peak of 18 percent in 2012 at the height of the euro region’s debt crisis.

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