The president is fast losing his title as Portugal’s most popular politician. Cavaco Silva has been in the firing line ever since the only way he could find of expressing solidarity with the country’s impoverished pensioners was to bemoan his own pension, saying it “would almost certainly not cover my expenses” adding that had it not been for a lifetime of savings, he would struggle in his old age.
Condemnation of this statement has been swift and relentless. Pensioners this week lined the street outside the president’s official residence in Lisbon, saying they would ‘help’ the nation’s commander-in-chief by amassing their last few coins (mostly five cent coins) from their too very miserable pensions to help him cover his living costs.
The irony in their protest became even more evident when media reports revealed that Cavaco Silva and the first lady had amassed six figure earnings in 2010, or rather, that he was 105 euros short of seven figures that year.
These earnings were amassed by means of pensions, investments and secondary work.
The president’s Facebook page and an online petition calling for his resignation have resulted in tens of thousands of people expressing their disgust at comments which even his allies have termed “insensitive” and “careless.”
While Cavaco Silva’s last entry was on 14 January and in no way related to his comments over the weekend, almost 6,000 comments have been posted, at least ten times more than the average of previous entries. In addition, most of these comments condemn the president.
An online petition circulating the internet which calls for the president to step down, has meanwhile amassed more than 30,000 signatures.
Nuno Luís Marreiros, the first signatory of the petition, is intending to send the petition to Parliament, though accepts that constitutionally, the people are powerless in removing the democratically-elected president from power.
Political parties have also taken an offence, and the Left Bloc has called for a fund-raiser to help Cavaco Silva avoid needing to emigrate from Portugal and “flee the country he has helped sink.”
Cavaco Silva, in his defence, has since explained his comments were to illustrate that he is closely following the situation of Portuguese who are facing enormous financial difficulties.
“It was obviously not my intention to preclude myself from the sacrifices currently being made by Portuguese, having insisted that my own personal situation was not an issue.”
Government officials and civil servants, including the president, were prohibited last year from accumulating salaries and pensions, the president opted for the latter which pays him around ten thousand euros a month (plus an average of around 2,900 euros in expenses) as opposed to the seven thousand euros payable to the country’s head-of-state.
Brendan de Beer