By CHRIS GRAEME [email protected]
Aníbal Cavaco Silva was re-elected as President of the Portuguese Republic on Sunday and immediately launched an attack on some rival candidates for attempting to “blacken his name and personal integrity”.
Boliqueime-born Cavaco Silva, who was supported by the PSD and CDS parties, garnered 52.9% of the vote, roundly defeating his opponents, left-wing poet Manuel Alegre (19.7%), humanitarian Fernando Nobre (14.1%), communist electrical engineer Francisco Lopes (7.1%), Madeira politician José Manuel Coelho (4.5%) and medical doctor Defensor Moura (1.5%).
The economist and former prime minister clearly won in all districts of the country, including Madeira and the Azores, but presided over the poorest turnout in a presidential election since 1974.
A mixture of political apathy, disillusion with the Portuguese ruling class and an unusually cold snap of weather have all been blamed for the 53.3% turnout.
Matters were not helped either over teething problems at the poll booths using a new electronic citizens’ card which has replaced the former registration card and other legal documents.
But instead of letting bygones be bygones after a difficult campaign full of the kind of dirty tricks that have come to characterise Portuguese politics in recent years, Cavaco Silva used his victory speech to launch a bitter and vengeful attack on those who he claimed had vilified him.
“Everyone knows what lay behind this low-down campaign of slander, lies and insinuations,” he said, adding that his opponents had sought to “blacken his name and personal integrity”.
However, both the Government, which supported far-left socialist Manuel Alegre, and business will breathe a sigh of relief that the presidential elections have been won outright and will not go to a second round.
That could have sent a message of political turmoil and instability to the international markets and may have precipitated higher interest rates and eventually a collapse in the current minority government.
Although Cavaco Silva won a greater percentage of the votes (52.94%) than he did five years ago (50.54%), the actual number of people who voted for him fell by over 500,000 votes from 2,773,431 to 2,230,104.
The surprise of the night was the fact that independent, humanitarian candidate, Fernando Nobre, founder of International Medical Assistance (Assistência Médica Internacional), succeeded in bagging 14.1% of the vote as a citizen without any political affiliation.
Analysts quickly pointed out that Manuel Alegre’s defeat was also a defeat for the government which had supported him. Some said the PS government should never have backed such a left-wing candidate while others suggested that it was the beginning of PSD leader Pedro Passos Coelho’s ascension to power and the end of the line for Prime Minister José Sócrates.
The President re-elect, Cavaco Silva, made two short but acidic victory speeches to the press and assembled VIPs and his supporters at the Cultural Centre in Belém, Lisbon, at around 10.30pm.
Calling his an “historic victory” of five candidates against one, he characterised the campaign as a victory of “truth over slander” although he promised the current Government and Prime Minister José Sócrates that he would provide “loyal support” but play an “active role in policing” the government’s performance.
He then went on to talk about a “dirty campaign” with regards to press articles about an alleged murky involvement in the BPN investment bank scandal and the building of a holiday home before planning permission licences had even been granted.
That led presidential candidate Defensor Moura, who got the worst election results, to not only fail to congratulate Cavaco Silva on his victory but state that he had “chipped the varnish of the seemingly spotless” candidate Cavaco Silva, who would “naturally never be seen in the same light again”.
José Sócrates admitted that the Portuguese had clearly stated what they wanted from the elections and had voted for stability.
“They opted for continuity and political stability,” he said, adding that he and his government would “cooperate with the president in resolving the country’s problems”.
Cavaco Silva was first elected President in January 2006 and was the first centre-right President since the Democratic ‘Carnation’ Revolution in 1974.
The early part of his first term was initially marked by cooperation and understanding between him and Prime Minister José Sócrates as he supported suppression of party political differences in the Portuguese Parliament in a policy that was referred to as “strategic cooperation”.
However, policy disagreements later and accusations that the Prime Minister’s office had tried to tap the calls of presidential advisors quickly turned the relationship sour – a situation exacerbated by the two men’s diverging opinions on how to deal with the fallout from the world economic and financial crisis from 2008.
Other disagreements followed when the Government announced its plans to support a bill in Parliament for same-sex marriages – something that Cavaco Silva, a firm believer in family and a strict Catholic, strongly opposed, despite reluctantly signing the bill in the name of political stability.
He had also opposed a parliamentary bill allowing a referendum to legalise abortion in Portugal without restrictions in the first 10 weeks of pregnancy – a move which Cavaco Silva referred to the Portuguese Constitutional Court but lost.