Something is cooking in Portugal

I don't usually write about politics, for me that is more often a never-ending discussion about tastes, rather than facts.

However, one senses a disturbance in the forces at Portugal. For the first time over the last (35?) years we see a change in landscape. For those non-familiar with Portuguese politics, the country is historically ruled by either one of the two large parties. Basically, one "misbehaves" and then comes the other to "repair". Vice-versa on next elections as voters grow anemic and disconnected from whomever gets elected.

This year wasn't the case. The ruling party is seen as "misbehaving" and the other party didn't got a majority, in other words, didn't convinced a significant part of the population to vote for them. This isn't unusual, what happened as different was the large number of votes going to other two minor parties and the fact that most citizens got up from their sofas to vote who "rules" them for the next years.

For the first time, I'm watching how the second largest party is now forced to negotiate with these smaller parties to reach an agreement. How since a long time they have to review what was promised during election time and get audited by other parties to ensure they keep what was promised.

In other words, for the first time watching what I'd describe as a realistic democratic process happening in our corner of Europe. Might seem strong words, but fact is that ruling a government by majority (in our context) is a carte blanche to rule over public interests. Go to Portugal, ask if they feel the government works on their behalf or against. Ask them for specific examples from recent years that support their claim, they quickly remember epic fights to prevent expensive airports from being built (Ota) by government or the extensive (and expensive) network of highways that got built with EU money and are today empty, still serving only the private interest of companies charging tolls on them.

There was (and still exists) a too-high level of corruption on higher instances of government (just look at our former prime-minister, recently in jail) or the current prime-minister (ask him about "tecnoforma" or about his friend "Dr. Relvas") and so exists a positive impact when small parties get higher voting representation, forcing the majority administrations to be audited and checked in public.

You see, most of this situation derives from a control of mind-share. In previous centuries you'd get support from local cities by promoting your party followers to administrative positions. Later came newspapers (which got tightly controlled), then radio (eventually regulated to forbid rogue senders), then TV (which to date has only two private channels and two state-owned channels) and now comes the Internet.

With the Internet there is a problem. The local government parties with majority are not controlling the platforms where people exchange their thoughts. Portuguese use facebook (hate or like it, that's what common families and friends use between them) and facebook couldn't (currently) care less about elections in Portugal, nor could either of the large parties have resources to make facebook biased to their interests. So what we have is a large platform where public news can be debunked as false or plain biased, where you can see how other citizens really feel about the current state of affairs, where smaller parties get a balanced chance to be read, heard and now even voted by people who support what they stand up for.

For the first time I see the Internet making a real difference in enabling people to be connected between themselves and enabling the population to collectively learn and change the course of their history, together. As for the Portuguese, you see the big parties worried that this thing of re-elections in automatic pilot is no longer assured. They too need to work together now. Portuguese, please do keep voting. For me this is democracy in action. Today I'm happy.