Portugal's parliament began an inquiry on Thursday into allegations the government tried to interfere with the media, raising the stakes in a row that has dogged the minority Socialist government for months.
Prime Minister Jose Socrates's government has relied on opposition Social Democrats (PSD) -- the main instigators of the inquiry -- for support as it rushes to enact tough spending cuts to show investors that it can reduce Portugal's budget deficit.
The inquiry will investigate whether the Socialists used Portugal Telecom (PT), in which the state has a stake, to buy into a television station critical of the government.
It will also address whether Socrates lied to parliament over the case last June. The prime minister has denied any wrongdoing, blaming political attempts to discredit him.
Socrates may be called to tesify, making him the first sitting premier to do so in Portugal 35's year-old democracy.
"It's almost inevitable that Socrates will be called, and he will make his deposition in writing, not in person," political analyst Adelino Maltez at Lisbon's Technical University.
"It's a half-way solution, he wants to protect himself."
A state-appointed Portugal Telecom director has quit over the affair, and there have been non-binding hearings into the case in parliament over several weeks, during which PT Chief Executive Zeinal Bava denied it was used by the government.
Unlike the hearings, the inquiry has investigative powers to gather information, using the police and courts. It has two months to carry out its investigation, and an inquiry commission is to meet next week to decide on who it will call.
The opposition PSD is due to elect a new leader at the end of this month and leading candidates have said the inquiry could lead to a motion of no confidence in the government.
"These may be empty threats, however, it will all depend on how the opinion polls are looking at time," Maltez said.
Recent opinion polls have shown that even though almost 75 percent of those surveyed believe Socrates lied about the media case, the Socialists would still win fresh elections.
ReutersGüncelleme Tarihi: 18 Mart 2010, 23:27