Rui Rio seems determined to lead his party into the January elections, in spite of a fairly lacklustre record in opposition

Marcelo stresses importance of “strong opposition” as knives sharpen in PSD

The acrimonious rift within Portugal’s centre-right PSD (opposition) party has just got a great deal nastier.

After leaked stories of a possible mutiny against leader Rui Rio (click here) came the revelation that former leader of the parliamentary bench Luís Montenegro will be challenging Rio this afternoon to call internal elections.

The inference is that the plunging popularity of the PSD has to be staunched as quickly as possible in preparation for legislative elections in October.

In a meticulously staged event in Lisbon, Montenegro is expected to give Rio two options: either accept that he has to face opponents head-on and call a leadership election, or leave it to an extraordinary meeting of the national council to do the job for him.

Either way, Rio’s dismal days as leader appear to be over.

News stories today are talking of ‘confidence in the PSD’ ‘falling by the month’, with ruling PS picking up all the benefits.

A recent poll confirms that voters see prime minister António Costa as a far better bet than Rio whose personal popularity is at an all-time low.

Taking care not to comment on all the inter-party ugliness, President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa has said “in abstract” that it is “good to have an area of strong government with strong opposition or oppositions and alternatives to power”.

Also a possible contender for the change in leadership is Miguel Morgado, a former advisor to the party’s former leader and prime minister through the crisis years, Pedro Passos Coelho.

Meantime, on the subject of popularity, a poll commissioned by tabloid Correio da Manhã suggests even President Marcelo’s popularity is falling: down to a value of 15.9 (out of 20) this month which, albeit still relatively high, is the lowest it has been since the energetic head of State took office.