Livre: Portugal’s latest anti-austerity start-up party

Following the trend of rapidly multiplying anti-austerity voices, we take a look at one of the new entries and what makes them tick.

A new party in Portugal is preparing for elections in October this year. Livre, meaning ‘Free’, wants to scoop up the votes of the young and disenchanted, just as Podemos has done in their neighboring country.

The party was launched in November 2013 by MEP Rui Tavares, a 42-year old who was first elected to the European Parliament in 2009 as an independent under the Left Bloc. He then switched to the Green group, and finally set up Livre, whose slogan translates as “Freedom, Left, Europe, Ecology”.

The party is anti-austerity but not anti-EU. They want to strengthen democracy and national sovereignty within the European Union. Like Podemos, they are experimenting with cyber democracy and participatory policy formation.

Tavares explains: “Livre has its voter base in the people that want a more democratic political party, more open, that invites them to participate effectively towards a change that has to be real for the country.” He claims that the “overwhelming” majority of Livre’s members have never been in any political party before. Just three in five people turned up to vote in Portugal’s last general elections in 2011, and Livre hopes to attract some of these non-voters.

They remain a fringe presence. Livre is polling at just 2.2%, behind the Left Bloc at 3.3%, while the Socialist Party have 37.5%. Yet they are picking up momentum, having gained the support of Fórum Manifesto, one of many prominent citizen movements that have joined Livre to create a common electoral platform. The platform is now receiving proposals from their three thousand members, and any citizen who wishes to take part, to define the key elements of Livre’s election manifesto, to be approved at conference at the end of the month.

“Livre has its voter base in the people that want a more democratic political party, more open, that invites them to participate effectively towards a change that has to be real for the country.”

If they build on their support, Livre could be kingmakers in the coming elections. Portugal remains dominated by the main ruling party, the centre-right Social Democratic Party (PSD) and the centre-left Socialist Party (PS). The two radical left parties, the Left Bloc (BE) and Portuguese Communist Party (PCP), refuse to make an alliance with the Socialist Party, which voted for the EU’s Fiscal Stability Treaty, imposing harsh austerity on the country. Today the economy has partially recovered, but roughly a third of young people remain unemployed.

Livre seeks to fill this gap, as an anti-austerity party that is open to an alliance with the Socialist Party and with the other left-wing parties and groups. “Socialists say that radical left parties are only protest ones. On the other hand, these radical left parties say that PS is not a really left-wing party. We refuse to take part in this,” Tavares says. “Livre’s strategy consists in breaking up with this impasse.”

Political scientist André Freire believes that this attitude is one of the great strengths of the party. “In the electorate, there is a disappointment not only with the PS position in the political spectrum, which is seen as too close to the center, but also with a left that is not available to rule,” he says. “If PS reaches a large relative majority, not an absolute one, it will be finally possible to have a left-wing coalition”.

It seems only a matter of time before Portugal’s two-party system is destabilized, just as we’ve seen in Greece and Spain. Could Livre provide the crack in the system? The seeds are there: youth support, opposition to austerity, a commitment to democracy and a broad alliance with citizen groups. It has eight months to grow, and the clock is ticking.

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