THE PEOPLE of Portugal sent a stark message to the central ruling party in the local council elections that took place last Sunday, with a repeat of the kind of results seen in the local elections of 2001, which actually led to the the resignation of then Prime Minister António Guterres. The main opposition party, the PSD (Social Democrats) were successful in winning what are considered to be the country’s three key câmaras, Lisbon, Porto and Sintra, and assumed control of a total of 138 councils countrywide, 29 more than the ruling Socialists (PS).
Of the district capitals, the Social Democrats only lost one to the Socialists (PS), Faro, in an extremely close race, eventually won by José Apolinário who toppled his opponent, incumbent president José Vitorino, by just 700 votes. Meanwhile, the CDU (Communist Party) reconquered several major câmaras, including Barreiro, Sesimbra and Marinha Grande.
Jorge Coelho, national campaign co-ordinator for the Socialists, admitted: “The PS did not achieve its aims at these elections.” He described the results as being similar to those of 2001. He also commented that the PS must work harder and choose better candidates and projects in order to achieve more favourable results.
Despite obviously feeling some disappointment at the results, Prime Minister José Sócrates put on a brave face, telling the media: “What was at stake here were the councils and not the government.”
Many commentators are blaming the austere measures taken by the eight-month-old government to resolve the country’s poor economic situation as being the reason behind the Socialist party’s poor performance in these elections.
Computer problems cause delay
Television stations were left in the lurch when it came to their live broadcasts, due to computer server problems experienced by STAPE (Secretariado Técnico dos Assuntos para o Processo Eleitoral), the entity responsible for releasing the data.
The difficulties, which were apparently caused by an overload of requests to access their internet site (46,800 request per minute), meant that results were still not available three hours after polling stations closed.
The local elections did not pass off entirely without controversy. Former Prime Minister and President of the Republic, Mário Soares, broke the electoral code (not for the first time) by calling for the public to vote for his son, João Soares, the PS candidate for the presidency of Sintra, on the day of the elections.
The official campaign period ended on Friday, October 7, allowing the general public a day of reflection. Furthermore, no communication is allowed between political parties and the electorate on polling day itself. Despite the support of his influential father, João Soares failed to win Sintra, which was won by incumbent president, PSD/CDS-PP candidate Fernando Seara.
In another unusual situation, three independent candidates, currently embroiled in court cases linking them to corruption and abuse of power, went on to win their councils, despite the negative publicity surrounding them and the pending charges – Isaltino Morais (ex PS) won Oeiras (see facing page), Valentim Loureiro (ex PSD) won Gondomar and Fátima Felgueiras (ex PS) won Felgueiras. However, Avelino Ferreira Torres, another figure embroiled in political scandal, a man who famously appeared in his underwear on reality TV show Quinta das Celebridades last year, failed to succeed in Amarante, finishing in third place, behind the PS and PSD.
In Portugal, candidates in elections are granted immunity from prosecution during the official campaign and election period, however, court proceedings will recommence, the results of which could have important significance for some of the councils involved.