Viewing cable 09LISBON52
Title: NEW AZORES STATUTE OPENS A WINDOW ON PORTUGUESE

IdentifierCreatedReleasedClassificationOrigin
09LISBON522009-01-26 16:13:00 2011-08-30 01:44:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Lisbon
VZCZCXRO5219
PP RUEHFL RUEHKW RUEHLA RUEHNP RUEHROV RUEHSR
DE RUEHLI #0052/01 0261613
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 261613Z JAN 09
FM AMEMBASSY LISBON
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 7318
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUVACEA/COMUSFORAZ LAJES FIELD PO PRIORITY
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC PRIORITY
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHDC PRIORITY
RUEKJCS/OSD WASHDC PRIORITY
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC PRIORITY
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 LISBON 000052 
 
SIPDIS 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 01/23/2019 
TAGS: PGOV PREL SOCI PO
SUBJECT: NEW AZORES STATUTE OPENS A WINDOW ON PORTUGUESE 
POLITICS 
 
Classified By: POL/ECON COUNSELOR RICHARD REITER, FOR 1.4B, D. 
 
¶1. (C) SUMMARY.  A few weeks ago the Portuguese parliament 
passed a new law regulating relations between mainland 
Portugal and the Azores islands, which are a Portuguese 
autonomous region.  This seemingly straightforward act was a 
proxy for far deeper political maneuvering playing out in 
Lisbon and the Azores, because underlying the statute were 
political and constitutional battles between the President 
and Prime Minister and between the two main parties heading 
into an election year.  When the dust had settled, President 
Cavaco Silva and his PSD party were diminished by events 
while Prime Minister Socrates and the Socialists remained 
well positioned for October elections.  END SUMMARY. 
 
WHAT ARE THE AZORES? 
-------------------- 
¶2. (SBU)  The nine-island Azorean archipelago, 1,000 miles 
west of the Portuguese mainland, is one of Portugal's two 
"autonomous regions" (the Madeira islands being the other). 
The Portuguese constitution grants political autonomy to the 
Azores, including a regional legislature and regional 
president.  Americans may know the Azores best as the source 
of Portuguese immigrants who settled in New England and 
California.  The US Air Force operates at Lajes Field on 
Terceira Island, and US Consulate Ponta Delgada is located on 
Sao Miguel Island.  The Azorean "constitution" is formally 
called the "Political-Administrative Statute of the Azores". 
The first Statute, passed in 1980, was amended in 1987 and 
1998, and changes to the Portuguese Constitution in 2004 
necessitated a third amendment.  So, for the past four years 
Carlos Cesar, the longtime Azorean regional president, has 
spearheaded the amendment process with a mandate to expand 
regional autonomy in several technical and legal areas. 
 
POLITICAL TENSIONS 
------------------ 
¶3. (C) Portugal's two major parties are the left-of-center 
Socialists (PS) and the right-of-center Social Democrats 
(PSD).  Carlos Cesar is PS, so his coordination with Lisbon 
became easier in 2005 when the Socialists, led by Prime 
Minister Jose Socrates, won a majority in Parliament.  But 
the next year the PSD took the presidency as Anibal Cavaco 
Silva replaced a Socialist --and a tense relationship between 
president and prime minister has shaped Lisbon politics ever 
since.  In the Portuguese system, the President more than a 
figurehead, so these tensions have consequences. 
 
A VERY LONG YEAR FOR THE STATUTE 
-------------------------------- 
¶4. (C) After two years' gestation in the Azorean legislature, 
the draft Statute arrived in Parliament in November 2007 and 
spent several months in committee.  With the Azorean branches 
of both the PS and PSD (and all minor parties) supporting the 
Statute's expansion of regional autonomy, their mother 
parties in Lisbon gave the bill unanimous approval in its 
first floor vote in June 2008.  Although his PSD voted in 
favor, on July 4 President Cavaco Silva refused to sign it, 
requesting instead a Constitutional Court review of thirteen 
of its 141 articles.  In August, the high court ruled that 
eight of those articles were indeed unconstitutional. 
 
¶5. (SBU) But Cavaco Silva was not finished.  While parliament 
reworked the eight articles, the President announced that he 
believed Article 114 --which he had not previously complained 
about-- was also unconstitutional.  Article 114 says "The 
President shall hear opinions from the regional government 
before dissolving the regional legislature or setting a date 
for regional elections".  Cavaco Silva said the mandatory 
nature of the "shall hear" created a new presidential 
obligation, and thus could only be enacted with a 
constitutional amendment rather than a statute.  But to the 
Socialists, the perception was of Cavaco Silva, thin-skinned 
in the best of times, peevishly raising new objections even 
after the high court had ruled; and worse, making his 
complaints via the press at the very moment when the PS and 
PSD were editing the text to meet his earlier concerns. 
Parliament refused to budge, and when the Statute came to its 
second vote on September 25, it included the changes ordered 
by the high court but left Article 114 untouched.  It again 
passed unanimously and went to the President a second time. 
 
THIRD TIME A CHARM 
------------------ 
¶6. (SBU) On October 27, predictably, Cavaco Silva vetoed the 
bill, citing Article 114.  Azorean President Carlos Cesar 
 
LISBON 00000052  002 OF 003 
 
 
called Cavaco Silva "overly dramatic" saying it was "unfair 
to mix up the Statute with an institutional conflict" between 
Cavaco Silva and PM Socrates.  Without making any changes, 
the Socialists brought the bill to a third floor vote on 
December 19 and overrode the veto.  Cavaco Silva's own PSD 
party --tugged between the President and their support for 
the bill-- abstained.  Thus on December 29, President Cavaco 
Silva was forced, reluctantly, to sign the newly-amended 
Azores Statute into law.  He may now challenge the 
constitutionality of specific articles, but the overall 
Statute is now in force. 
 
WHAT THIS MEANS TO THE AZORES 
----------------------------- 
¶7. (SBU) In practical terms, the Statute expands and 
clarifies the powers of the regional government, granting it 
authority over its own institutions, as well as over key 
sectors such as taxation, energy, and education.  Azoreans of 
all stripes support it, while most mainland Portuguese are 
indifferent, so there really is no pocket of resistance. 
Some Azoreans uncharitably took Cavaco Silva's position as a 
sign of his native rightist centralism, and Carlos Cesar 
blamed the President saying, "for form rather than content 
and egged on by his inner circle, the President foolishly 
overvalued his own views and then couldn't back down because 
he'd staked out a position for public opinion".  Cesar 
conceded that if the high court were to strike down Article 
114, there would be little real impact on the Statute, which 
led senior PSD official (and Azorean) Mota Amaral to 
criticize Cesar for raising the stakes by falsely implying 
that Azorean autonomy was somehow at stake. 
 
¶8. (C) The PS's refusal to edit the relatively unimportant 
Article 114 in the face of the veto was a calculated snub of 
the President and a demonstration of its strength in 
Parliament.  Just before the December 19 floor vote pundits, 
constitutional scholars, and even some Socialists conceded 
that Cavaco Silva's objections had merit, but relations 
between the PS and the President had soured, and the bill 
moved inexorably to a vote.  Each side blamed the other for 
unnecessarily raising the stakes, and both seemed incredulous 
that a trivial article in a bill with unanimous support 
should have sparked such a fierce row. 
 
HOW THE PSD LOST ITS GROOVE 
--------------------------- 
¶9. (C) The PSD is in disarray and Cavaco Silva's insistent 
opposition to Article 114 further damaged the party.  The 
Social Democrats supported the bill, but being forced to 
abstain on the final vote made them look inconsistent and 
confused.  They're on a losing streak: last summer they 
selected a new party president who is proving to be a weak 
disappointment -- which is sparking internal factionalism. 
She is the third party leader in the past two years, and 
there is speculation that she too will be swapped out before 
October's elections.  In parliament, the PSD has proved 
remarkably ineffective at getting its message out to the 
public, and it keeps getting steamrolled by the Socialist 
majority.  In a notable embarrassment, on December 5 the PSD 
lost a key floor vote on a closely-watched education bill --a 
vote it could have won-- because thirty of its deputies 
failed to show up to vote.  These self-inflicted wounds could 
not have come at a worse time, for Portugal is gearing up for 
October elections, and the PSD's troubles suggest the 
Socialists will not have to work too hard to keep the PSD in 
the opposition -- recent polling gives the PS a 41-30% lead 
over the Social Democrats. 
 
SOCRATES AND CAVACO SILVA 
------------------------- 
¶10. (C) PM Socrates and President Cavaco Silva began their 
coexistence in 2006 with a self-proclaimed "strategic 
cooperation" --but that's all history now.  The two could not 
be more different, in style or substance.  Socrates is a 
bare-knuckle politico who kisses babies and counts noses and 
focuses on steering his party through the next election 
cycle.  Cavaco Silva, by contrast, cultivates the patrician 
image of a senior statesman adhering to a moral patriotism 
that can transcend day-to-day politics but, as we have seen, 
can also be outflanked by a politician like Socrates.  But 
Socrates does not want October's elections to become a 
popularity contest between himself and the President, for 
Cavaco Silva's staid, conservative rectitude is popular among 
Portuguese.  Thus both may benefit from keeping the tensions 
boiling but without letting them boil over. 
 
 
LISBON 00000052  003 OF 003 
 
 
THE LONGER VIEW: INSTITUTION BUILDING 
------------------------------------- 
¶11. (C) Sometimes lost in these squabbles is the fact that 
Portugal's democracy is but three decades old and its 
institutions are still spreading roots.  The 1976 
constitution is on its fifth revision and a sixth is likely 
within a decade, suggesting that much of the text is still 
being interpreted (for example, there was considerable 
uncertainty about whether the parliamentary votes over the 
Azores Statute required a simple or two-thirds majority).  So 
debates over the balance of power between President and 
Parliament may sap some political energy, but they are also 
necessary to long-term stability.  In fact, Portugal's 
post-dictatorship institutions purposely have these tensions 
built in to avoid concentrating power in any one person. 
Nearly every Prime Minister and President since 1976 have 
engaged in these duels, including the 1986-1995 decade when 
Cavaco Silva himself was PM and a Socialist was President. 
 
THE SCORECARD 
------------- 
¶12. (C) Cavaco Silva had every right to raise questions about 
the Statute, and the Constitutional Court partially 
vindicated him by striking down eight of the 141 articles. 
His mistakes were tactical:  by not objecting to Article 114 
the first time around he contributed to the overheated 
rhetoric, creating drama where none was necessary. 
Similarly, the Socialists in Parliament succeeded in wielding 
their political dominance, but their mistake was in bringing 
a bill to the floor with so many unconstitutional articles, 
which put their competence into question and gave the 
President an easy soapbox.  Finally, the Azorean regional 
government ended up demonstrating significant leverage in 
national politics (some pundits are calling it extortion). 
Azorean President Carlos Cesar got everything he wanted from 
Lisbon and more.  In fact, last year he had insisted that 
Socrates and the mainland Socialists give him his way on the 
Statute if they wanted him to remain as the party's 
standard-bearer in the Azores; they did, and he did.  The 
lasting impression from the whole scenario of the Statute is 
that of Cavaco Silva churlishly standing, alone, on a point 
of principle, his PSD reduced to watching from the sidelines, 
and the Socialists taking advantage as the country heads into 
an election cycle. 
STEPHENSON