No clear winner in TV debate

ONE COMMENTATOR said it would have to go to a “penalty shoot-out” to decide the winner after Social Democrat leader Pedro Santana Lopes and José Sócrates, the Socialist Party (PS) challenger, held a 90 minute face-to-face debate last week.

Most polls indicated that the event, watched by more than two million people, was too evenly balanced to make a substantial difference. Both sides claimed victory but the PS campaign coordinator, Jorge Coelho, refused the Social Democrats Party’s (PSD) offer of a second confrontation, insisting that the real dialogue would now be with the Portuguese people.

The debate, conducted in the American presidential-style, began heatedly. José Sócrates assumed the moral high ground and spent 15 minutes alluding to the “untruthful rumours” and “wicked insinuations” made against him. He denounced Santana Lopes’ tactics, saying they represented “a black page” in the history of the PSD. Santana Lopes replied that he had never made references to anyone’s private life and said he had been on the receiving end of “20 years of rumours” during his political life.

The two candidates touched upon abortion, euthanasia, homosexual marriages and the cloning of embryos. But two central planks of the parties’ platforms – the PSD’s ‘shock management’ and the PS’s ‘technology shock’ – were barely mentioned. Instead, Sócrates aggressively pursued the issue of ‘competence’. “If the PS win, then the country will not From page 1

witness the incidents of the last six months, which led the President to dissolve parliament,” he said.

Leaders disagree on unemployment

Sócrates insisted that Santana should be held to account for the overall performance of the government over the last three years, not just for the last six months. He condemned public sector salary pay freezes, accused the government of undermining public sector workers, vowed to bring the issue of poverty to the forefront of the campaign and reiterated his “objective” of creating 150,000 jobs.

But the Socialist leader was vague on specifics – he conceded that businesses, not governments, create jobs but then insisted that governments can create the right conditions for economic growth. Sócrates asked the PSD leader why 150,000 jobs had been “lost” over the last three years. But Santana Lopes countered that the highest level of unemployment occurred in 1996, during the government of António Guterres. He also said that the PS was offering the electorate the same policies that had failed in the past: “The PS team is the same as the one that allowed the Guterres government to drag the country into the mire.”

Sócrates said he remembered the promises of a “fiscal shock” delivered by Durão Barroso before he assumed power in 2002. “Those who promise to lower taxes and then raise them ought to be penalised,” he said. Santana replied that the country had had a “nervous shock” when it learned the full scale of the public accounts deficit bequeathed by the Guterres government. The Prime Minister said he was in favour of increasing the retirement age, “in principle to 68”, a plan condemned by union leaders after the debate as “a measure which would penalise workers”. Santana also spoke of the need to boost productivity and reduce state spending from 15 to 11 per cent. Sócrates merely said he would wage war on public sector “bureaucracy”.

Questioned by journalists and Santana Lopes about his attitude towards homosexual marriages, Sócrates said these and other social issues were not the priority issues for the Portuguese people and said they were only being raised to divert attention away from the PSD’s economic record.

Left-wing parties condemn

“superficial” debate

Francisco Louçã from the Bloco de Esquerda (BE) said neither party had come up with anything new. “Santana was unable to justify the crisis we are in after three years and José Sócrates was very ambiguous, not wanting to commit himself to anything,” he said. Jerónimo de Sousa, leader of the Communist Party, said that “fundamental questions were not addressed in the debate” and called on Sócrates to commit himself to revoking the new Work Code.

José Sócrates, speaking over the weekend at a rally in Faro, said he was against the imposition of tolls on the Algarve’s Via do Infante motorway. He also criticised Santana Lopes for “tics of instability”, a reference to Santana’s admission that current Finance Minister Bagão Felix, a member of the CDS-PP, may not feature in a future coalition government.

Santana Lopes, interviewed on RTP over the weekend, denied that other leading party members were reluctant to share a platform alongside him and refused to countenance resigning as party leader in the event of defeat. The Prime Minister also revealed he was in favour of a fresh referendum about abortion, an issue which brought him into open disagreement with his coalition partner, Paulo Portas, who said that he did not see the need for any change in the law.

As the campaign enters its final days, opinion polls are still pointing to a clear Socialist victory. Gabriel Hershman