13/02/2005 - D-7
On the day when their Spanish neighbours will be voting by referendum on the European Constitution the Portuguese will be called to ballot in order to renew their Parliament.
The President of the Republic of Portugal, Jorge Fernando Branco de Sampaio (Socialist Party, PS), did in effect set in motion the procedure to dissolve Parliament on 30th November last. By calling early general elections the President of the Republic ended the internal crisis that had been disrupting the government led by Pedro Santana Lopes (Social Democrat Party, PSD) ; on 9th July 2004 the latter had succeeded José Manuel Durao Barroso, appointed as President of the European Commission on 29th June last at the extraordinary European Council in Brussels. "The government presented a totally incoherent image and a total lack of organisation," stressed Pedro Magalhaes, professor of political science at the Institute for Social Sciences at the University of Lisbon. The electoral campaign for these general elections started on 6th February and ends on 18th February.
On 3rd February last, during a televised debate, that brought the leaders of the country's main political parties face to face, José Socrates, the Socialist Party leader attacked his Social Democrat adversary on the country's economic situation that 95% of the Portuguese believe to be "bad", i.e. the highest figure amongst the 25 member States of the EU. "I have experienced incompetent governments managing economic crises but I have never seen a government destroy as many jobs in such a short time," declared José Socrates. "An opinion of a government is usually formed over four years whilst I have been judged after only four months of being in power," answered the Prime Minister.
Pedro Santana Lopes tried several times to lead the Socialist candidate into an area that is dangerous in this very Catholic country – homosexual marriage – a subject that, since Spain's adoption of a law permitting the union between people of the same sex, is at the heart of public debate. "We shall have to wait until there is a social consensus; this is why the Socialist Party programme plans for nothing in terms of marriage between two people of the same sex and adoption of children by homosexual couples," declared José Socrates. "The maturing of society is not sufficient to provide the correct answer to these issues. The debate must follow its course. Placing these questions at the centre of political debate would appear deceitful," added the Socialist leader. On 29th January the Prime Minister said that he was against homosexual marriage and the adoption of children by couples of the same sex. He also asked candidates of the other parties to declare their thoughts on this issue publicly. During the televised debate Pedro Santana Lopes said that the question should be submitted to referendum.
According to all opinion polls the Socialist Party should win the early general elections. The latest poll undertaken on 7th and 8th February by Aximage and published on 11th February by the daily newspaper Correio da Manha, gave the Socialist Party 44.7% of the vote, versus 27.4% for the Social Democrat Party, ie 17.3 points more for the opposition. The Unitarian Democratic Coalition (CDU) is to win 7.1% of the vote, the Popular Party le (CDS/PP) member of the government coalition, 6.4%, and the Left Bloc (BE) would win 4.8%.
The parties on the left have all made progress in comparison with the last opinion poll undertaken by the same institute (dating back to the previous week); the parties on the right have all recorded a decline in support.
One third of the Portuguese think they will abstain on 20th February (35.1%) and 6.4% say they still have not decided. These results, if confirmed, will enable the Socialists to win an absolute majority of the seats in Parliament. Although the opposition's victory seems to be a foregone conclusion the question remains however of whether the Socialist Party will be able to govern alone or whether it will have to form a coalition with one of the "small" parties on the left.