Looking at this story brings a rush of memories pertaining to our own president, Goodluck Jonathan. Before the elections and shortly after, President Jonathan communicated with Nigerians and his friends via Facebook- informing them of government policies and the reasons behind certain policy directions. But following his removal of subsidy on petrol- a common commodity, his Facebook page became a place for most Nigerians on social media to vent their anger and displeasure. He has since abandoned his Facebook citing insults and uncouth language. Now, Portugal’s Prime Minister is having a taste of the “double edged” effect of Facebook.
A Facebook post by the prime minister bemoaning the difficulty of announcing yet more austerity measures has sparked furious response from recession-hit Portuguese voters. Pedro Passos Coelho posted his message on the social networking site on Saturday. By Tuesday morning it had attracted more than 47,000 mainly critical comments.
Most of those responses attacked Mr Coelho over the unfairness of the measures or by detailing the penury faced by ordinary citizens in the country, which is subject to a €78billion bailout programme.
‘Mr Prime Minister, your term in office only recently began, but it is already proving a disaster, unemployment has become a permanent fact of life,’ read one typical comment.
‘You have clearly never been offered a part-time secretarial job paying €2 an hour or tried to divide a pork cutlet between three people,’ said another.
A third read, simply: ‘New mathematical equation: Portuguese political parties + Portuguese career politicians = legalized Mafia.’
The outpouring of criticism on Mr Passos Coelho’s Facebook page came after he, on Friday, announced a fresh austerity package designed to keep international creditors at bay.
The spending cuts, which will see pay for many workers slashed, are needed to keep Portugal on track to comply with the economic restructuring requirements attached to its massive bailout programme.
But the unexpected scale and force of the reponse to the measures suggests the patience with which Portuguese voters have hitherto accepted austerity is being stretched.
‘Mr Prime Minister, your term in office only recently began, but it is already proving a disaster, unemployment has become a permanent fact of life’ reads one other response to Pedro Passos Coelho’s Facebook post.
Speaking as a ‘citizen and a father’, and addressing voters as ‘friends’, he wrote of his ‘frustration in not being able to spare you from these sacrifices’.
Unemployment is a ‘personal and family drama’, he said, adding that the reforms ‘represent a necessary and unavoidable step towards a real and lasting solution’.
‘We won’t give up until the job is done and we will never forget that our children are watching what we do,’ he said.
A lot of the response to Mr Passos Coelho’s message were insulting, with many calling for his resignation or worse. One of the more measure comments judged the reforms thus: ‘This is the opposite of Robin Hood, this robs the poor to give to the rich.’
Is Prime Minister Passos Coelho about to take over from President Jonathan as the most insulted political leader on Facebook yet? While President Jonathan views criticisms of his policies on social media as the handiwork of his detractors, it remains to be seen how Mr. Passos Coelho will react to this barrage of criticisms on his Facebook page.