You may have seen the #PortugalCoup hashtag trending on Twitter. It refers to the decision by the Portuguese President to block a coalition of three left-wing parties from taking power, even though they won an absolute majority of seats at the general election a few weeks ago. But you'd be forgiven for being slightly confused by this story, because almost every single UK and international media outlet told people that the Left had 'lost' the election. This, for example, was the BBC's summary on 5th October -
"Portugal's governing centre-right coalition has won the country's general election, which was widely seen as a referendum on four years of austerity. Socialist leader Antonio Costa admitted defeat and congratulated Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho."
Now, unlike Iain "o Rosnar" Gray, I don't speak Portuguese, but it does seem fantastically improbable that Mr Costa "admitted defeat" after an election he hadn't lost, and then set about preparing to take office anyway. This is an even more extreme example of the problem I identified in the early reporting of the Canadian election a few days ago - the media just won't accept ambiguous election outcomes, and instead insist that there has to be a 'winner' and 'loser', even if the numbers stubbornly refuse to support that interpretation. Although the centre-right in Portugal had remained the largest single party, the real story was that they had lost their majority, leaving them with the same set of options that Angela Merkel faced after two of the last three German elections - they could go into coalition with the socialists, they could compromise with the socialists on a programme for government, or they could vacate office altogether in favour of a socialist-led coalition. There was no sustainable option for the centre-right to govern alone, and there still isn't.
Now that the media have belatedly accepted the fact that the socialists didn't 'lose' the election, the narrative has suddenly switched to "the EU elite is abolishing democracy in a member state". I'm not sure that's really justified either, because unlike the disgraceful treatment of Greece, there's no evidence that the EU elite is actually responsible for what's happening. (They may well approve of it, but that's a different matter.) This seems to be more a case of the homegrown Portuguese elite casting around for excuses to prevent two radical left parties from becoming junior partners in a coalition government. The best comparison is not with Greece, but with the preparing of the ground in the UK for the idea that Corbyn would be a threat to national security as Prime Minister, and that it would therefore be legitimate to remove him.
Incidentally, it's not even really the case that Portuguese democracy is being attacked, because unlike the faceless military men who have talked about ousting Corbyn, the Portuguese President is a directly-elected politician who seems to be acting within his constitutional powers. He's using those powers irresponsibly, and deserves all the opprobrium that's being heaped on him, but the biggest criticism should be of the constitutional framework that has allowed him to do this. It would make far more sense for the Prime Minister to be directly elected by parliament, as happens at Holyrood (albeit our system could be improved as well). And I would still rather be Portuguese than British in this context, because the Queen has exactly the same powers as the Portuguese President, without any of the hassle of being elected. We just rather sweetly assume that those powers can never be abused. Perhaps we should rethink that assumption before it's too late.