Why Demanding Elections in Portugal is a Bad Idea


This discussion has been showing up in several conversations. So I decided to clarify my thoughts about it and simultaneously share them here. Here we go: Why demanding elections in Portugal is a bad idea.

Premise 1. There are no real parliamentary alternatives to the existing government and therefore elections would stabilize the political turmoil.[1]

The polls do not show a drastic change in the political choices of the voters. Although many people disagree with the current policies, there isn't any parliamentary political party which has been gaining the support of the masses.

It is a typical bourgeois strategy to bring up the election option whenever there is significant dissent among the population. They would say “Oh, you have a problem? Okay, here you are, let's make an election.” to calm down the protests and reestablish their status-quo. Then, getting reelected, they would cheerfully declare “You see? The protesters are the marginals of the society. Democracy has spoken. The nation wants us.” Of course they would do this only in conditions where they knew that their power would not be challenged. According to recent polls, this is exactly the situation in Portugal. It is therefore unreasonable for the opposition groups to call for elections. This would simply strengthen the hand of the bourgeoisie.

It is now time to challenge the ruling class as a whole and the social structure with which it rules. It is time to challenge the existence of bourgeois organizations.

Premise 2. Portuguese elections are not legitimate, and social movements should not legitimize the bourgeois representative system.

Voters turn-out in Portuguese general elections are surprisingly low. In the last elections the voter turn-out was 58%. Here are the actual results:
PSD               22%
PS                  16%
CDS-PP        7%
CDU               5%
BE                  3%

This deserves emphasis. No nos representan! And you don't have to be a radical advocate of direct democracy to say this. They don't represent us even in bourgeois standards.

The electoral system is happily not functioning anymore. Happily, because we have a social counterweight:

Hundreds of thousands march all around the country. 10% of the population is protesting against Troika policies.[2] And here we are, instead of questioning whether this should be considered a “revolutionary situation” or not, proposing elections?!

One million proletarians are on the street; it is an amorphous crowd, searching for something else[3]. And what will the opposition do? Send them back home? An opposition whose lack of imagination restricts it to the existing political structure has a name, it is called social democrat. Let us rather struggle for imagination!

It is no time to legitimize the bourgeois representative system. What we should do instead is to mobilize the society, denounce elections and its results, and seek for revolutionary creativity.

In short, I challenge the advocates of the “eleições já”: Do you consider the bourgeois representative democracy legitimate? Do you think that the society considers it legitimate? When would you be convinced that the population does not consider it legitimate? And by this last one, I am asking for realistic qualitative and quantitative measures, not for some cheap rhetoric. (I wonder what Lenin would do if he saw us demanding elections today.)

Conclusion. Demanding elections in Portugal is a bad political choice.

The elections are not a relevant political tool for us in today's Portugal. They can only serve for the soothing of the social anger and the reestablishment of the status-quo. Under any revolutionary standards, a hypothetical election campaign today should consist of boycotting the elections and fighting for a structural alternative.

Supporting argument. Organizations that do not have organic affiliations with parliamentary parties should not demand elections but resignations.

In this section, I want to focus on why it is in general incorrect for a non-affiliated social movement to call for elections.

Social movements fight for social change, independent of who is in the government. The government policies only shape their strategy and actions.

In this context, they sometimes demand the resignation of certain politicians, or even the resignation of the government. Furthermore, they may support one or more candidates in terms of their programmatic support for the social movements' demands. These are all within the context of a campaign strategy.

But demanding elections?

Why would a social movement demand elections?

I want to emphasize that there is an essential difference between calling for the resignation of the government and demanding elections. One demands elections if and only if one has an electoral alternative to campaign for. A social movement making politics for the benefit of a political party is an example of what is generally called embedded politics.[4]

The role of a social movement is to move and to let move. The alternative that a social movement proposes to the society is itself.

How it looks like: Are you in favor of LGBT rights? Vote for the right party. Are you unemployed? Vote for the right party. Are you angry about the privatization of water services? Vote for the right party. etc.

How it should be: Are you in favor of LGBT rights? Join our LGBT organization. Are you unemployed? Join the movement of the unemployed. Are you angry about the privatization of water services? Take part in the campaign against the privatization. etc.

Demanding elections (and demanding it for that matter) is another thing. If there is an election, an organization might choose to campaign about it. But we should not campaign for it.

Here are some questions for which I can't see the answers: What is the political meaning of demanding elections in addition to resignation of the government? Which role do elections play in the strategy of your organization? What do they serve for?

Refutation of a counterargument. Demanding elections in Portugal is a bad tactical choice.

There is one counterargument that deserves mentioning as it is compatible with the political assumptions of this text. It agrees that demanding elections is a bad political choice, but it claims that elections are good as a tactical choice. Here is how it goes:

An upcoming election would yield a PS-led government, who would not challenge the capitalist system and therefore would have to play with the rules. This would continue the austerity measures, thereby creating distrust among the population for the social democrats, and resulting in the elimination of all capitalist options and the radicalization of the society.

This argument is valid yet hilariously weak. It not only makes the slippery slope fallacy but also is not supported by evidence.

In Turkish, there is a proverb: If my aunt had a beard, she would be my uncle. It more or less means that if you ask for too many things at the same time, you would end up having something completely different.[5]

Let us analyze the argument carefully.

Premise 1.  An upcoming election would yield a PS-led government.

I see very little evidence for this. Recent polls show that PS increased its votes just a bit. So, a government which is led by PS would be a very weak government.
But for the sake of argument, let us assume this true.

Premise 2. A PS-led government would not challenge the capitalist system and would continue the austerity measures.

I agree with this premise.

Premise 3. Continuing austerity measures would create distrust among the population for the social democrats.

I see no evidence for this. I cannot come up with historical evidence that could be applied to the Portuguese case. I also cannot come up with any qualitative or quantitative parameter that would support this premise.

PS made many bad things for the society and it still has some support. The reason is that a social democrat party is by definition the expert of rationalizing all the evils it does (as opposed to the liberal party, who is never apologetic about its acts[6]). I see no reason why they would fail in this particular case.

In addition to that, recalling my response to Premise 1, a PS government would be a weak government. It would clearly need a coalition.
The best case scenario is that they are supported by right-wing and therefore scapegoat the right-wing for all their evil.
The worst case scenario is they are supported by left-wing and therefore take the left-wing with them down the hill. As PS has more propaganda power, it would dominate the discussions, thereby creating a non-cooperative image for the left-wing.

Premise 4. Distrust among the population against social democrats would result in the elimination of all capitalist options.

This is not only not supported by evidence but also refuted by it.

There are several capitalist options at hand: The weaker trend is the neo-Nazi nonsense, and I will not increase their citation number here. But there is an awkwardly significant monarchical trend: recall the flags in the first Que Se Lixe A Troika demonstrations. Furthermore, there is a ridiculously naïve but extremely dangerous Salazarist trend gaining support among the population, which has already become visible to the naked eye.

I want to emphasize that these are capitalist options, and that they exist as real options.

Premise 5.  Elimination of the capitalist options radicalizes the society.

I don't see evidence for this. On the contrary, we see signs of hopelessness and submission. Elimination of the capitalist options may as well result in a society that gives up the search for options. And I believe it is more probable in given subjective conditions.

What we should do instead is to radicalize and politicize the society by our own means, instead of praying for the objective conditions to do it.


[1]         Underlying assumption: This premise is based on the assumption that politics should always be revolutionary politics. Bourgeois parties exist today, as the Nazi party existed in Third Reich. Their legitimacy today should have no meaning for us. Their existence and their so-called right to expression is against human dignity. Freedom to elect a bourgeois party for a proletarian is like a slave's freedom to choose slavery in Roman Empire. (For further reading, see “the happy slave paradox”.)
[2]          By the way, this might possibly be a world record, not counting the amazingly inspiring Cuban 1st of May celebrations.
[3]          perhaps for another world, as the now-not-so-trendy slogan goes
[4]          I do not in any way claim that affiliated social movements are bad. I think they should exist, and I think their discourse is much more honest than many other organizations. This is why the statement of this argument is carefully stated. And this is why this item is a supporting argument instead of being part of the original argument.
[5]         The English proverb is “If frogs had wheels they wouldn’t bump their botts.” I think a better translation is “If ifs and ands were pots and pans there’d be no work for tinkers’ hands.”
[6]          For further reading, see Michael Moore's essays on the Clinton administration.

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