Elections: six days to go and “it’s anyone’s guess”

Six days to go till Portugal goes to the polls and it is still “anyone’s guess” as to who will be in power on Monday morning.

With daily polls suggesting neither the ruling coalition (PSD-CDS) nor the PS – the only contenders with any serious chance – will have an absolute majority, the former still look slightly ahead of the game.

As international media puts it: “On October 4, the Portuguese cast their ballots among 16 parties whose leaders include Europe’s “hottest” prime minister, a former avant-garde theatre actress and a pregnant psychologist with a tendency for appearing naked in magazines”.

Pedro Passos Coelho is “the smooth-talking leader” with the “cautious low key approach to politics” whose policies “have led the country to modest growth after a long recession” and who was recently voted No 7 in the world’s “hottest heads of state”.

“He is loathed by the left for public spending cuts, tax hikes and privatizations”, writes European website Politico – and he is partnered by a politician “dogged for years by murky rumours”.

Paulo Portas, “Portugal’s canniest politician” in this close-fought race, has “teflon qualities” boosted by “a knack for turning on the common touch” – whereas António Costa, the PS man-who-would-be-prime-minister is losing steam.

“Costa easily won the only head-to-head TV debate with a number-crunching Passos Coelho,” writes Politico, “but the party’s poll rating has been slipping as the election approaches.”

Anyone who followed the polls in the UK’s elections in April will know just how wrong polls can be. But in Portugal the other “unknown” is abstention.

Voter turnout in elections has been dropping steadily since 1975, when it was at a healthy 91.73%. In 2011, it was at an all-time low (58.03%).

Reuters, running a piece this week suggesting restaurants will “test the Portuguese appetite for austerity”, confirms there are still “many (voters) doubting any politician will really make a difference”.

Meantime, the Left Bloc – whose former actress figurehead has been markedly vociferous – is gaining steam, and ACT, “one of a dozen parties struggling to get more than 1% of the vote”, has won acclaim due to its leader stripping off while pregnant.

Brussels, for now, sits and waits – with a timely-reminder dropped this week that Portugal “still has a relatively low rate of taxation” and “could resort to increasing taxes on consumption and environmental taxes”.

The story, announced on Económico website, carried a photograph of the Finance Minister looking ready for bed.

[email protected]