Portugal’s new Socialist government gets off to bumpy start

LISBON, Portugal (AP) — Portugal is getting a new foreign minister, finance minister and defense minister as the center-left Socialist Party prepares for its third straight term in government, with blunders and missteps marking the run-up to its swearing-in.

The Socialists won January’s general election in a landslide, capturing 119 seats in the 230-seat parliament for a four-year term.

António Costa, the Socialist Party leader who has been prime minister since 2015, was due to present the names of his new Cabinet members to Portugal’s president at an audience late Wednesday.

But the names were leaked to the media several hours before the audience, which the head of state — a former leader of the main opposition Social Democratic Party — then abruptly canceled. Costa denied the leak had come from his office.

That embarrassment came after a snafu over voting from abroad in the Jan. 30 ballot forced a rerun of mail-in votes cast by Portuguese living in the rest of Europe and delayed the new government’s swearing-in until March 30.

Red-faced officials have admitted the 2022 state budget — seen as key to relaunching the economy after the COVID-19 pandemic and amid economic fallout from the war in Ukraine — may be approved by parliament only in June.

Costa, who is widely expected to take up a high-profile international post before his term ends, has burnished his liberal credentials by appointing more women than men to his 17-member Cabinet in a first for Portugal. The Cabinet has nine women.

The defense minister will be a woman for the first time, as Helena Carreiras moves over from her post as head of the National Defense Institute, a government agency.

She replaces João Gomes Cravinho, who moves to foreign minister in place of Augusto Santos Silva.

Santos Silva becomes speaker of parliament and is tipped to make a run as the Socialist candidate for president of Portugal.

Fernando Medina, a former mayor of the capital, Lisbon, is the new finance minister. He has little experience in national public finances but is one of Costa’s close political allies and potentially a future party leader.

Medina lost his job in last year’s municipal elections after admitting that Lisbon City Council had shared the personal details of Lisbon-based dissidents and protesters with foreign embassies, including those of Russia and Israel.

In its previous two terms the Socialists have ruled as a minority government, requiring the support in parliamentary voting of their left-of-center allies, but they now have enough seats to push through legislation without any backing.

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