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Monday, February 12, 2007

Fascism wins Portugal's abortion referendum

Whatever your position on the age-old debate about abortion, and few people are ever agnostic on this issue, the news from Portugal today is not good.

Portugal, like Ireland, does not provide for legal abortion. As part of his election platform, Prime Minister Jose Socrates had vowed to introduce abortion on demand up until the tenth week of pregnancy.

But when he put the issue to the Portuguese people, only 40% of the electorate actually voted. In Portugal a referendum has to be voted on by half of the electorate as well as receive a majority of the vote if it is to pass.

That's the law. So the referendum wasn't passed.

Now this wasn't apathy. This happened because many people who oppose abortion in Portugal stayed away from the polls, realising perhaps that the divisive issue was likely to pan out against their position. And so it has occured, with an estimated 60% of those who voted approving the change in law.

But even though Mr Socrates did not receive the endorsement he sought, he has decided to push on with the plan to introduce legalised abortion anyway.

This effectively makes the whole referendum meaningless. If Socrates, clearly not as smart as his ancient Greek namesake, intended to ignore the laws of the country and the will of the people in this manner, why bother wasting the time and effort of holding a vote in the first place?

In other words, like Bertie Ahern, who kept holding referenda in Ireland on the Nice Treaty until the people voted the way he liked, Mr Socrates prefers to ignore the will of his electorate, the people he is supposed to serve, when their opinions get in the way of what he wants to do.

This is the opposite of democracy. This is Salazar all over again. I hope that Portuguese people, no matter what their opinion on the emotive issue of abortion, will unite to reject the fascist tendencies of their allegedly socialist Prime Minister.


Flirty Something said...

"All that is necessary for evil to succeed is for good men to do nothing." Edmund Burke. Although I can't agree with implementing a law I hope it will motivate the Portugese to be more pro-active in future. Perhaps he should have made his intended course of action clear before the referendum.

JC Skinner said...

I believe that he did make clear what he intended to do.
However, that is no reason to ride roughshod over a referendum result, which is a purer expression of the people's will than his interpretation of what they want.
Six years ago, Portugal voted against introducing abortion.
This current poll indicates a likelihood that they would vote in favour.
But they didn't do so in sufficient numbers this time.
Mr Socrates should wait and hold another referendum in two years time, if necessary.

The Voice of Treason said...

I'm against abortion myself, but I can see Socrates' point on this. If those who abstained really cared about the issue, then they should have gone out and voted 'no'. Those who could be bothered to get up off their arse and mark that X did so affirmatively. Less than 50% of the total electorate voted in the 2005 British General Election. That doesn't make the will of those who did vote any less valid.

So Socrates didn't get his 51+% turnout. He wouldn't have got it in two years time either, or in two years after that. Issue fatigue would have set in, and the public could be safe in the knowledge that all they had to do was stay at home and nothing would change. It's the cowardly way out.

caio said...

Well, let's see. I stay in Leiria two months of the year, and I'm not quite sure if the current regime is quite up to the level of Salazar.

Salazar killed any voice of opposition, or sent them to a nice little prison in the middle of the Atlantic. If you buy his propaganda (which I doubt he did himself), he based his policies on some insane distortions of christian values ("The Portuguese Have Pride in Poverty" is my favourite).

As it stood, a woman could be prosecuted for getting an abortion in another EU country, for instance. I'm not a big fan of abortions, but I can't support that.

Personally, I reckon Sócrates' actions will be defended by many by saying it's not like Salazar. I find most Portuguese interested in politics, even PS supporters, feel it's better to have as little government involvement as possible in controversial issues, an attitude which, like virtually everything in Portuguese politics, is a backlash against the Estado Novo mentality.

Anonymous said...

I believe you will find that referendums have no legal status in the Portuguese constitution. There were two referendums in Portugal in 1998 - the first on the decriminalisation of abortion up to the tenth week of pregnancy, and second on the proposal to create devolved regional assemblies. Most commentators at the time were of the opinion the then Prime Minister, Antonio Guterres, was opposed to both - despite both proposals being party policy - and that he invented the idea of a referendum as a means of evading his responsibilities as government leader. Despite 'losing' both 1998 referendums, the government could still have gone ahead with them - the referendums were purely indicative.

The same is true now - and it was true last February - the referendum result has no legal standing whatsoever, and the government does not need to pay the blindest bit of notice to it - even if 100 percent of those participating voted no. In Portugal, the rule is that governments are elected to make the decisions - referendums are just a means of avoiding having to do so. Both the Prime Minister and the President are to be congratulated for taking the hard decision, and for letting Portugal move forward from this debate with which it has been struggling for decades.

If people feel so strongly that Socrates and his government have acted 'illegitimately', then they have the proper democratic remedy at their disposal - vote them out at the next election, and vote in people who are prepared to make criminals of women who choose no to have their child - and thereby forcing them back into the expensive, dangerous back-street clinics.

JC Skinner said...

Your legalistic argument stinks, and it is not surprising you fail to identify yourself, anon.
Any country where an executive elite can choose to overrule the will of the people is not a true democracy, and that applies as much to Portugal in this case as it applied to Ireland at the time of the first Nice referendum.

Senhor P. said...

The Portuguese Constitution says that a referendum that has less than 50% participation is not legally binding. In this situation the government can legislate in the Parliament.

In 1998 only 30% attended to the polls and No won. This referendum was also not legally binding but the government at the time decided it would be arrognat to go against the majority that actually expressed their opinion by voting.

The 2007 referendum was exactly the same. But this time the majority of voters said "yes". And this was followed by the government.

In his campaign Socrates did NOT promise to legalize abortion. He promised to do a referendum about the law. And that was done.

Your post is poor in analysis and setting the appropriate context. If you have no idea what fascism is then you shouldn't write about it.