LISBON Portuguese state television channel RTP's plan to give former premier Jose Socrates a weekly commentary spot has sparked outrage, with 100,000 people signing a petition citing his "bad management" that led the country to take a bailout in 2011.
"We, citizens and tax-payers, declare that we reject the presence of former Prime Minister Jose Socrates on any programme at RTP, television paid for by public funds of taxpayers suffering from the bad management of this gentleman," the Internet petition said.
Many comments said the plan was "shameful".
A counter-petition in favour of Socrates' TV commentary, to start next month, and defending the democratic right to free expression, garnered around 5,300 signatures on Friday.
That view was also backed by RTP director Paulo Ferreira who said he understood the controversy but "the pluralism of opinions in public media" was an important democratic principle.
He would not reveal the details of the deal, but Diario de Noticias newspaper said Socrates would be working for free.
By gathering more than 4,000 signatures, both petitions will have to be discussed by parliament.
Socrates' Socialist government collapsed two years ago amid an escalating debt crisis, and one of his last decisions was to request a bailout from the European Union and IMF, forcing the country to implement tough austerity and structural reforms.
Since then, Socrates has mostly lived in Paris, attending a university course.
The big tax hikes and spending cuts applied by the present centre-right government of Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho as part of the bailout have pushed the country into its deepest recession since the 1970s and brought the new administration's popularity down towards record lows.
Although the main opposition Socialists are ahead in opinion polls, many Portuguese still associate them with the bailout and the party has largely failed to capitalise on the disappointment with the new administration. Opinion polls show the Socialists would not be able to form a majority government.
(Reporting By Andrei Khalip; Editing by Hugh Lawson)
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