Socrates is new leader

Former Portuguese Environment Minister, José Socrates, has won a sweeping victory in the leadership elections for the Socialist Party. Socrates, 47, replaces Eduardo Ferro Rodrigues who quit in protest at President Sampaio’s decision not to call fresh elections after former PSP Party leader, Durão Barroso, resigned as Prime Minister to take up his post in Europe.

The other candidates, Manuel Alegre and João Soares, took 15.9 per cent and 4.1 per cent of the votes respectively. “Change has already begun here tonight. The government can now count on a stronger and more effective opposition,” Socrates said. The new leader, seen as the most moderate of the three candidates, takes over at a time when the Socialist Party’s standing is rising in the polls, following unpopular austerity measures introduced by the government. Socrates made it clear that his first intention was to make his party an alternative government, but he refused to be drawn by journalists on details of strategy.

Socrates celebrated his victory by taking part in Lisbon’s half-marathon last Sunday. He finished the race on the Vasco da Gama Bridge only an hour behind the winner. “People have to understand the importance of jogging and I will continue to devote time to exercise,” said the newly elected socialist leader, who admits to being an occasional smoker.

Commentators are viewing Socrates’ victory as a chance for the Socialist Party to re-establish its credibility following what some people saw as Ferro Rodrigues’ lacklustre performance as leader. Socrates’ elevation to the top job means that both main party leaders have changed since the beginning of the year. Pedro Santana Lopes has replaced Durão Barroso as Prime Minister and leader of the Social Democratic Party after the latter agreed to take over as the President of the European Commission.