On Tuesday, November 7th, a seismic shift occurred in Portuguese politics as Prime Minister António Costa tendered his resignation in the wake of a corruption scandal that has rocked his administration. The scandal, which involves high-stakes lithium mining concessions and ambitious hydrogen energy projects, has led to the arrest of his chief of staff and cast a long shadow over Costa’s leadership.
Costa, at the helm since 2015, has been a prominent figure in Portugal’s Socialist Party, steering the country through economic reforms and political challenges. His resignation marks a significant pivot in Portuguese politics, as he had secured a robust mandate in the previous year’s elections, suggesting a stable tenure ahead. However, the integrity of his governance came into question when the Public Prosecutor’s Office disclosed an investigation into allegations of prevarication, active and passive corruption, and influence peddling involving Costa and several members of his cabinet.
The investigation’s focus on the Romano and Barroso mines in the north and the industrial projects in Sines has unveiled potential irregularities in the awarding of contracts and concessions. The judiciary’s move to issue arrest warrants for key figures, including Vítor Escária, Costa’s chief of staff, underscores the gravity of the situation and the potential implications for Portugal’s political landscape.
In his televised address, Costa asserted his innocence but acknowledged the untenable position in which the allegations placed him, prompting his decision to step down. President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa accepted his resignation, a formal acknowledgment that the government’s continuity under these circumstances was no longer viable.
The fallout from this scandal has been swift and far-reaching, with a total of 10 senior government officials having departed since the 2022 election victory. The resignation of the infrastructure and housing minister over a controversial compensation payment to a TAP Air Portugal board member was a precursor to the current crisis, indicating a pattern of questionable practices within the government ranks.
As President de Sousa prepares to dissolve parliament and call for new elections, the country braces for a period of uncertainty and political realignment. The scandal has not only precipitated the downfall of a prime minister but has also cast a spotlight on the mechanisms of power and accountability in Portugal.