INAUGURAL SPEECH OF THE PRESIDENT OF THE ASSEMBLY
OF THE REPUBLIC, EDUARDO FERRO RODRIGUES
"I will be the President of all the Honourable Members"
Honourable Members of the Assembly of the Republic,
I would like to begin by welcoming the outgoing
President, Ms Assunção Esteves, who, with her
humanism and competence, understood how to dignify Parliament
and the office of President of the Assembly of the Republic
at a complex time and in a very demanding legislature.
I would also like to welcome all the elected
Members and wish them every success in carrying out their
mandates, now that the 13th legislature is getting under way.
I welcome all the officials of the Assembly
of the Republic and greet the journalists who work here.
The start of a legislature is a time of renewed
hope. And it is always a very special moment for those who
are coming here for the first time with the noblest of missions:
representing the Portuguese in the Assembly of the Republic.
I well remember the day I took up the office
of Member for the first time.
I recall some Members that singled me out at
various times and functions: Raúl Rego, Jaime Gama,
Manuel Alegre, Barbosa de Melo, Mota Amaral, Almeida Santos,
Silva Lopes, João Cravinho, Basílio Horta, Pacheco
Pereira, Lobo Xavier and many others who, unfairly, I am not
I want to tell you that the honour I felt on
the first day I sat on these benches as an MP is exactly what
I feel today in deserving the trust of your vote to hold the
office of President of the Assembly of the Republic.
I hope to live up to the legacy that has been
left to me by the Presidents who have preceded me and to their
example of democratic culture and institutional cooperation.
I will be the President of all the Honourable
Ladies and gentlemen,
The Assembly of the Republic is a sovereign
body that has an irreplaceable place in our democratic political
It is in this House that the sovereign will,
expressed by the vote of all Portuguese women and men, is
represented in the composition of the groups of the various
This is where legislative initiatives are passed
and laws are made. The Assembly of the Republic is the forum
par excellence for the monitoring of government action. But
this is also the centre of major political debates. And that
is why it is a crucial place for expressing differences, and
also for constructing commitments and balances, always essential
to sustaining the great advances in our country.
A quality democracy does not end on election
day. Democracy is a system of separation of powers, a system
based on rules and procedures, in which the opposition has
a status and as a relevant role as the Government.
The Assembly of the Republic is required equally
scrupulous respect for the role of the other sovereign bodies,
the President of the Republic, government and courts as well
as for the autonomous regions and local governments. This
is a binding constitutional duty.
We respect the sovereignty and autonomy of
the courts, the government and the President of the Republic.
Hence, we have the right and duty to require respect for the
sovereignty of Parliament.
This legislature should serve to consolidate
the legislative and supervisory role of the Portuguese Parliament
and uphold it as the stage for major national political debates.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Today in particular, the Assembly of the Republic
is required to understand how to properly fulfil its constitutional
duties, but also know how to go beyond its traditional methods.
Parliament is required to understand how to
be equal to the times that we live in and the signs that the
Portuguese are giving us.
The Portuguese feel distant from power and
have less and less trust in democratic institutions. The levels
of dissatisfaction with democracy are worrying.
In the elections of 4 October, more than 40%
of the Portuguese opted to not even bother to vote. Forty
years after the first free and fair elections, which mobilised
the hope of so many in Portugal, we achieved a strong abstention
in elections, even taking into account the lack of realism
of the electoral roll, which have to take into account the
huge emigration between 2011 and 2013.
We must not deceive ourselves: many of these
signs of dissatisfaction with democratic institutions are
first and foremost down to dissatisfaction with the country’s
current economic and social situation.
The process of economic adjustment that we
are going through has left social wounds that must be healed
as a matter of urgency. I’m thinking about poverty.
Unemployment. Inequality. And unwanted emigration.
No economy grows in a fair and shared way if
it leaves most of the people behind. No democracy is strengthened
when its middle class is shrinking. The world's most prosperous
and competitive societies are cohesive and caring societies
with high levels of qualification and innovation.
We have to restore the values of solidarity
and innovation to democratic institutions. These have been
and will continue to be the battles in my life!
Ladies and gentlemen,
In addition to economic and social improvements,
the Portuguese are waiting for changes in the political system;
changes that bring them more power of scrutiny and participation;
as well as changes in the culture prevailing among the political
Lively debate and the full expression of differences
is compatible with a culture of respect and dialogue. In these
past, very difficult, few years it would have been important
at certain times to have known how to protect such distinction
and find room for negotiation and compromise.
Having good politics is half way to having
good policies and good results.
We urgently need to consolidate a new grassroots
democracy. We need to find ways of ensuring that citizens
have more influence on the choice of each of their MPs, always
with scrupulous respect for proportionality. We need more
transparency in the exercise of public office. We need to
bring the State and its services closer to citizens.
Parliament should be the forum for these great
Ladies and gentlemen,
Next year will mark the 40th anniversary of
the adoption of the Portuguese Constitution.
This date deserves a special celebration.
Celebrating the Constitution is not a mere
ritual. It signifies remembering the topicality of the constitutional
spirit of 1976.
In 1976 it was possible for parties and constituents
that represented very different social models to converge
with respect to the rules of the democratic game and the fundamental
values that still guide the Portuguese Republic today.
The European integration of Portugal is certainly
the basis of many successes of 40 years of democracy. But
it was the initial constitutional spirit, marked by compromise
and convergence, which then offered the political conditions
for the advances of democracy to be achieved.
Conflict is characteristic of democratic politics,
but no democracy can survive without a culture of institutional
loyalty and of strategic dialogue between the parties represented
in Parliament. No democracy can survive without compromise.
The truth is that the history of the successes
of these 40 years of democracy is the history of many political
compromises and many advances in civilisation, which were
only possible because there were those who sat at the table
to reach an agreement on fundamental issues.
Adapting Mário de Carvalho, I would
say that the Honourable Members are all going to have to exchange
a lot of ideas on many subjects.
Or, to quote Pessoa in The Book of Disquiet:
“All of us in this world are living on board a ship
that is sailing from one unknown port to another, and we should
treat each other with a traveller’s cordiality”.
And so our history of compromise and convergence
must necessarily be repeated in this new time in which no
political force gained an absolute majority.
In this context, the responsibility of all
the parliamentary groups is increased. The Portuguese will
be watching the Assembly of the Republic.
In a world with too many wars, incredibly serious
problems of refugees and migrants, at risk of disasters caused
by climate change, this Parliament and this country are summoned.
Everyone has been summoned. Everyone. Because
in a democratic parliament nobody – I emphasise: nobody
- representing the people is, at the outset, prevented from
contributing to the future.
Just as there are no first and second MPs,
so there are no first and second parliamentary groups, some
coalitions that are acceptable and others banned.
Throughout these 40 years, we have shown that
we know you cannot have a republic without republicans and
that you cannot have democracy without democrats.
Together, we have already fulfilled many dreams
of democracy. We have achieved political rights, and we have
also achieved the economic, social and cultural rights of
We now have new dreams to fulfil. And this
is why we have to learn to live up to these new dreams.
Allow me a personal observation - I have spent
nearly 50 years in the daily political struggle for more democracy
and social dignity, I owe a great deal to my grandparents
(I learned to read with the newspaper República that
my grandfather had a subscription to during the Estado Novo)
and to all my family. Those who unfortunately have already
left and those who remain always at my side, my wife, my brother,
my children and grandchildren. And of course my friends (some
of them for over 60 years) and my comrades.
I would like to end by wishing all the Honourable
Members the greatest success for this 13th legislature.
Let us make this new legislature that starts
today a new legislature of parliamentary dialogue, political
compromise and social progress.
The measure of this success is that in four years’ time
we should have a democracy that is closer to our ambitions.
Thank you very much.
Eduardo Ferro Rodrigues
President of the Assembly of the Republic
São Bento Palace, 23 October 2015