New President of Portugal elected this Sunday.jpg

New President of Portugal elected this Sunday

FORMER PRIME Minister Cavaco Silva appears poised to secure a first round victory in Sunday’s (January 22) presidential election. All the latest findings point to Cavaco Silva becoming Portugal’s new President and successor to Jorge Sampaio, who has served two consecutive terms in office.

Latest polls place Cavaco Silva with between 55 and 60 per cent of the vote. Significantly, more than 60 per cent of Portuguese believe that the election will be resolved in the first round.

Bad weather throughout the country marked the last full weekend of electioneering, forcing one of Cavaco Silva’s opponents, Mário Soares, to cancel a planned lunch in Bragança. Cavaco Silva’s other main adversary, Manuel Alegre, campaigned in a rain-soaked Algarve while other far-left candidates addressed rallies of the party faithful.

Cavaco Silva has pledged that, if elected, he would guarantee political stability, a rebuff to commentators who predict that his presidency would lead to an uneasy cohabitation with Socialist Prime Minister José Sócrates.

A ‘Thatcherite’ politician credited with spurring Portugal’s economic growth in the late 1980s, 66-year-old Cavaco Silva narrowly lost the 1996 presidential race to Sampaio. In this election, he won the support not only of his own party, the Social Democrats (PSD), but also that of the right-wing Popular Party (CDS-PP) who declined to put up a candidate. The only dissent on the centre-right came from former Prime Minister Pedro Santana Lopes, who said that a victory for Cavaco Silva would send confused signals about who was really in charge of the country.

Left field failed to produce clear favourite

None of Cavaco Silva’s opponents emerged as a conspicuous front-runner. Former Socialist president Mário Soares and poet Manuel Alegre vied for the mainstream centre-left vote in a contest that appeared to give Alegre the edge. But neither candidate achieved great momentum during their campaign.

Alegre antagonised his own Socialist Party by standing against Mário Soares and by failing to appear in parliament during an important vote on the budget. Alegre’s progress through to the second round would present a genuine dilemma for Sócrates in light of the war of words between Alegre and the Socialist Party during the campaign.

The other two main candidates are all on the far-left: Communist Party General Secretary, Jéronimo de Sousa, and Bloco de Esquerda leader, Francisco Louçã, who are battling for fourth place. Jéronimo de Sousa managed to fill Lisbon’s Pavilhão Atlântico with up to 12,000 supporters last Saturday, but polls seem divided about which of the far-left candidates will emerge triumphant. Another ‘extremist’, the Maoist Garcia Pereira, has consistently languished below one per cent in all the polls and looks certain to finish last.

Soares, at 81 the oldest candidate in the race, has repeatedly attacked Cavaco Silva’s unsuitability for office, describing his opponent as a “dry economist” with little grasp of Portuguese culture and history. But Soares’ tactics seem to have backfired – even the official backing of the Socialist Party failed to lift him in the polls. He has railed against social injustice and poverty and accused recent right-wing government of presiding over “a disaster” but his campaign often appeared negative.  In recent comments, Soares blamed the Portuguese press for opposing his candidature but said he remained convinced that he could win a second round run-off against Cavaco Silva. The polls make this scenario unlikely – but not inconceivable – given that the votes for each of the five left-wing candidates in the first round would probably go to Cavaco Silva’s opponent in the second.