The Portuguese government’s declaration that the current Attorney General (PGR) will not have her mandate renewed is being treated as “an affront to the president,” local media reported on Wednesday.
The president, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, tried to downplay the controversy, telling the SIC News channel that the issue was “non-existent”. But the Expresso newspaper cited a source close to the president who said he was privately smarting.
The Minister for Justice, Francisca Van Dunem, said in a TSF radio interview on Tuesday that the PGR’s “was a long and one-off mandate”. This implied that the current PGR, Joana Marques Vidal, would not have her mandate renewed in October when her 6-year term expires.
The PGR is a presidential appointment, albeit one made from a government shortlist.
Marques Vidal was appointed by Anibal Cavaco Silva, Rebelo de Sousa’s predecessor, having been nominated by the center-right Social Democratic Party (PSD) government of the time.
The center-left Socialist Party government now in power thus stands accused of rushing to make a political appointment. But the row runs deeper than which office of state ought to be leading on the matter.
Van Dunem, a magistrate, was answering from a legal perspective. Her reading of a 1997 amendment to the constitution is that it limits each PGR appointment to one mandate.
But legal opinion is divided on the matter. Rebelo de Sousa is believed to disagree, not least because, as leader of the PSD in 1997, he helped draft the legislation.