Former PMs Passos Coelho, Durão Barroso, Pinto Balsemão – and Cavaco – in Montenegro’s corner
With the TAP theatre undermining confidence in Portugal’s absolute majority government, national media today is full of the ‘will he, won’t he’ dissolve parliament question – looking at President Marcelo, who has consistently said he ‘doesn’t want to’, but … he might – while at least one news source suggests PSD leader Luís Montenegro is already preparing a new government.
This weekend’s fervour comes as the details coming through on the latest firing from government circles have become so bizarre that they could make quite an amusing film: we are talking “backpacks (and a bicycle) used as weapons”; fisticuffs, government aides “hiding in the lavatory” and the calling in of the secret services (for more, see below).
As reports explain, it is not just that recent opinion polls have shown people’s voting intentions now (slimly) favour the centre-right over ruling PS Socialists, it is the absolute stink that the TAP ‘parliamentary inquiry’ is generating.
Leader writer Armando Esteves Pereira writes that the political majority is doing everything it can to “hide and stifle the political scandal of TAP”, which has now gone far beyond the case of the ‘golden handshake’ “or the sand in the eyes around the privatisation process”.
Esteves Pereira’s understanding is that the government is trying to “hide very relevant facts.
Diário de Notícias looks elsewhere, concentrating on opposition leader Luís Montenegro who “understands that what is most felt in the street, speaking with Portuguese people, is the frustration with the government.
He doesn’t want to allow himself to be carried away by the results of the latest opinion polls; is not ‘counting chickens before they hatch”, but he is planning, says the paper.
“In addition to the regulars on the permanent commission with which he meets every week, Montenegro is including in his list Passos Coelho, Cavaco Silva (former president and former prime minister), Durão Barroso, Pinto Balsemão, Santana Lopes (who recently said it was time for the current president to consider dissolving parliament) and “people connected to businesses, academia, as well as friends ideologically from other political persuasions”.
The plan, a source tells DN, is to “get an idea” who would make a good minister/ good secretary of State. “This is the reflection, because for each position there must always be half a dozen possibilities”, stressed the source
Meantime, the TAP saga continues
Today’s ‘news’ centres on some more of the background in the sacking of infrastructure minister João Galamba’s deputy, Frederico Pinheiro.
“Frederico Pinheiro is a name that a few days ago would have meant nothing to most Portuguese”, says online ZAP AEIOU (part of the Impresa group, which owns SIC television news), citing various news sources. “But the former assistant to the minister João Galamba has jumped into the media spotlight in a case involving TAP, aggression, an accusation of theft and even aides hiding in the lavatory.”
Following his sacking earlier this week – ostensibly over his superior’s alleged desire that he lie to the parliamentary commission – Pinheiro reports that Galamba told him he was also barred from entering the ministry’s premises.
But Pinheiro wanted his computer. “He did not listen to (Galamba)”, says ZAP. “He went to his office to get his computer, and that’s when things really started to boil over…”
Punches and a bicycle thrown through a window
The night of April 26 “was marked by high tension, with shouting and aggression – and police being called to parliament.
“After being sacked by Galamba, Pinheiro went to retrieve the computer he had been assigned at the ministry, claiming it contained personal files. But the minister’s aides tried to stop him from taking it and this is when tempers flared.
“While they tried to take the computer from him, Pinheiro turned his backpack into a kind of weapon and punched the people around him, eventually fleeing down the stairs of the building”.
But when it came to leaving the building, Pinheiro reportedly found the exit doors all locked.
This is where the bicycle came in. It is unclear from both ZAP and TVI’s reports, where the bicycle had been languishing (Pinheiro certainly did not have it with him when he fled down the stairs). But it was extremely useful, as he “threw his bike against the glass façade, to make his escape” reports TVI.
Público picks up on the story, explaining that as police called to the scene arrived, they questioned Frederico Pinheiro, but let him go “as there was no one to contradict his words” (due to all those that could hiding in the ministerial lavatories).
The five aides, all understood to be women, only left the refuge of the lavatories when police “went to get them”, says Público.
By this time it was the early hours of April 27.
“Around one in the morning, the chief of Galamba’s office called the minister to say she was shut in one of the lavatories of the ministry (…) recounting the existence of aggressions against herself, and the other aides.
“These allegedly assaulted women have all presented complaints to police. One even had to be attended in hospital”, reports TVI.
While all this was going on, Frederico Pinheiro was presumably cycling home, with his computer in his backpack – very possibly aware that there were going to be consequences.
Zap now bounces to Observador online, saying “Pinheiro managed to get his computer home with him, but later delivered it to SIS (the secret service) which was called in to intervene by the chief of Galamba’s office (the woman rescued from the group in the lavatories).
Pinheiro’s “idea” in taking the computer, was to copy the notes he had made of a meeting that everyone accepts should never have taken place (the meeting in which the government ‘prepped’ TAP’s CEO on what she would be asked by the parliamentary inquiry and how to answer…)
The computer is now in the hands of PJ police, and the country awaits the next installment.
As TVI says in its breathless account of these events, the details are “mad, unpredictable. Astonishing, even”.