21/02/2005 - Results
For the first time in its history, the Socialist Party (PS) won an absolute majority in the general elections that were held on 20th February in Portugal. "The old legend that said that only the right could aspire to winning an absolute majority in Parliament has died," declared the Socialist leader, José Socrates. His party won 45.05% of the vote and 120 of the 230 seats in the Portuguese parliament (+ 25 in comparison with the previous general election on 17th March 2002). We should remember that no other political party had won an absolute majority for over ten years in Portugal. The ruling Social Democrat Party (PSD) achieved its lowest result since 1983: 28.69% of the vote and 72 representatives (- 30). The Unitarian Democratic Coalition (CDU), an alliance of the Communist Party and the Greens led by Jeronimo de Sousa, came third winning 7.57% of the vote and 14 seats (+ 2). It came out slightly ahead of the Popular Party (CDS/PP), that is allied to the ruling Social Democrat Party winning 7.27% of the vote and 12 representatives (- 2). Finally the Left Bloc (BE), led by Francisco Louça, managed to make a real break through winning 6.38% of the vote (+ 3.6 points) and 8 seats in Parliament (+ 5). The four MP's elected by the Portuguese abroad will only be known on 2nd March.
Together the left wing has won 59% of the vote, a result that they had never achieved in Portugal's entire history. The gap between the two main political parties, the Socialist Party and the Social Democrat Party is also the greatest ever recorded.
In spite of a campaign led by a mysterious group call "A turning point for Portugal" that was designed to encourage the Portuguese to show their defiance with respect to all politicians, the electorate turned out overwhelmingly for these general elections. The participation rate reached 65.02%, i.e. 2.68 points more than during the previous election on 17th March 2002.
"It's time to have done with pessimism, disillusionment and defiance," maintained the Socialist leader adding that he would put his victory to "the service of modernisation, the fight against unemployment and poverty and the reduction of inequalities. The fact that so many Portuguese voted and in such numbers for the Socialist Party can only be interpreted in one way. It is not just a majority of rejection but also a majority to confirm the possibility of an alternative ambition and the desire to change. It is not a majority of protest, it is a way of building a new future for Portugal," José Socrates also said. Rui Oliveira Costa, director of the opinion research institute, Eurosondage, does not share this opinion however. "It is not a turn to the left by Portugal but simply a way of discrediting the right," he maintained. Pedro Magalhaes, a political analyst at the Institute for Social Sciences at the University of Lisbon pointed out that "this government's image - Pedro Lopes Santana's government - was one of the worst amongst the electorate in the history of Portuguese democracy. The stakes were to prevent the maintenance of this coalition in power."
"I take full responsibility. The responsibility depends on those in government. I wanted to win these elections and publicly I said that it would be victory to win them," indicated the former Prime Minister Pedro Santana Lopes (PSD) saying that he was going to convene an extraordinary congress of his party in order for militants to express how they felt about the general election results and on the party's future. "A political cycle is coming to an end. Unfortunately I cannot say that I had all that I asked for or all that I expected on the part of the leaders in my party," he insisted on adding. The Social Democrat leader had met with great opposition over the last few months from within his own party. Hence the former Prime Minister (1985-1995), Anibal Cavaco Silva refused the use of his image for the electoral campaign. "Have you ever seen a politician so badly treated as I have been?" wrote Pedro Santana Lopes in a letter to all of the Portuguese, "we have something in common – we are not as ease in this system," he concluded.
The former Prime Minister did however receive the support of the President of the European Commission and former Prime Minister of Portugal during the campaign. "I would like to express my solidarity and confidence that the Social Democrat Party will succeed once more in being worthy of its responsibilities and that it is able to continue to help Portugal on the path to social justice and progress," declared José Manuel Durao Barroso in a TV flash broadcast across the country without however naming his successor as head of government.
Defeated, the government's Defence Minister and President of the Popular Party, Paulo Portas, announced his resignation as head of the party when the results were announced. "I have suffered a personal defeat," he maintained. The populist leader believed that he had failed in achieving the four objectives he had set his party: that the CDS/PP contributed to the creation of a centre-right majority, that it succeeded in preventing the Socialists from having an absolute majority in Parliament, that it won at least 10% of the vote and finally that it remained the third party in Parliament.
José Socrates, the new Prime Minister, is forty-seven years old and from the country's second biggest town Porto, and a great admirer of the Scandinavian model. He is a qualified engineer and has been a member of the Socialist Party since 1981; he entered Parliament in 1987 and distinguished himself particularly thanks to his defence of consumer rights. One year after his first election the weekly Expresso appointed him "the best new MP." In 1995, José Socrates became Secretary of State for the Environment, then deputy Minister in charge of Youth, Sport and the Fight against Drugs for the Prime Minister at the time, Antonio Gutteres (PS). He was appointed Minister for Urban Development in 1999 and succeeded in having Portugal appointed as the organising country of the European Football Championship in June 2004.
In order to resolve the economic and social crisis that Portugal is suffering from José Socrates wants to reform the civil service that employs 750,000 people and represents 15% of the national GDP and to decrease the number of civil servants by replacing one in two departures into retirement. He aims to boost the country back into economic growth by creating 150,000 jobs thanks to a "technological shock" that should improve qualifications and enable a true development in research and innovation. Only two Portuguese in ten have the equivalent of the "A level", versus two thirds in all of the other western countries. The new Prime Minister remained discreet however about the means by which he aims to undertake his policy. The absolute majority that he has won in Parliament will enable him to have a free hand to launch his programme.
Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, who was himself celebrating a major victory of the "yes" vote in the referendum on the ratification of the European Constitution that was organised on the same day as the Portuguese general elections, congratulated his neighbour on his success. "After a long period of time, the clocks of Spain and Portugal are in harmony," he declared.
José Socrates, like his predecessor, is in favour of organising a referendum on the European Constitution and is to call the electorate to ballot quite quickly. Initially planned for April next this popular consultation was delayed and still has to be established in an electoral calendar that is already very full since the Portuguese will have to elect their local representatives in the autumn (between 14th September and 14th October) and the President of the Republic at the very beginning of next year.
Reminder of the General Election Results 20th February 2005
Participation rate: 65.02%
Source Agence Lusa
* : The four representatives elected by the Portuguese abroad will be known on 2nd March