19/12/2005 - Analysis
On 22nd January the Portuguese are called to the ballot boxes for the third time in a year, following the general elections on 20th February 2005 and the council elections on 9th October last. Nearly nine million voters are to appoint the successor to Jorge Fernando Branco de Sampaio (Socialist Party, PS) as President of the Republic. The latter has been in office since 1996 and cannot stand for a third consecutive mandate.
For many years Jorge Fernando Branco de Sampaio, a law graduate from the University of Lisbon was an active member of the resistance against the dictatorial regime established by Antonio Oliveira Salazar in 1932. From the 1960's on he played a major role in the defence of political prisoners. After 25th April 1974 and the Carnation Revolution that witnessed the fall of Salazar, Jorge Fernando Branco de Sampaio initiated the creation of the Social Left Movement (MES) that he did however leave in December of the same year due to ideological disagreements. He joined the Socialist Party in 1978 and the following year he was elected MP and member of the party's secretary general. He was then elected to Parliament in 1980, 1985, 1987 and 1991. He was also the mayor of the capital Lisbon in 1989, a position to which he was re-elected in 1993 before becoming President for the first time on 14th January 1996 and then on 14th January 2001.
The Presidential Function
The President of the Republic of Portugal is elected every five years by direct universal suffrage. In order to stand candidates must collate the signatures of at least seven thousand citizens. The function of Head of State is mainly honorary. The President of the Republic is the Head of the Armed Forces whose Chiefs of Staff he is responsible for the appointment of. On the government's proposal he also appoints the ambassadors. He may declare a State of Emergency or State of Siege and even war if there is a real or imminent act of aggression. He signs the laws and decrees over which he holds the right to veto. On the government or parliament's proposal he decides on the organisation or not of a referendum.
Finally the President of the Republic can dissolve Parliament (article 172 of the Constitution), a dissolution that leads de fact to new general elections. Hence on 30th November 2004, Jorge Fernando Branco de Sampaio decided to end the internal crisis that was disrupting the government led by Pedro Santana Lopes (Social Democrat Party, PSD) and to launch a procedure to dissolve Parliament and to convene early general elections. The President of the Republic then justified his decision putting forward the "serious credibility crisis" that the government was going through and the inability of the latter to "maintain the political stability of the country." " For the past four months Portugal has been experiencing a series of chapters that have decisively darkened the government's credibility, there has been a succession of incidents, contradictions, and mistakes in co-ordination that have seriously damaged the government's prestige," he declared. Following this decision, early general elections took place on 20th February 2005.
If no candidate wins an absolute majority on 22nd January next a second round will be organised two weeks later on 5th February between the two candidates who win the greatest number of votes.
To date six personalities are officially running for the function of President of the Republic:
- Mario Soares, 81 years old, former President of the Republic (1986-1996) and Prime Minister (1983-1985). He qualifies himself as an independent candidate, but has the support of the Socialist Party;
- Anibal Cavaco Silva, 66 years old, teacher of economics, former Prime Minister (1985-1995) and candidate in the presidential election of 14th January 1996. He is standing as an independent candidate but has the support of the Social Democrat Party (PSD) and the Popular Party (CDS/PP) ;
- Manuel Alegre, a Social Party member but who does not enjoy the support of his party:
- Jeronimo de Sousa, secretary general of the Communist Party (PCP) ;
- Francisco Louca, leader and candidate of the Left Block (BE) ;
- Garcia Pereira, secretary general of the Communist Workers' Party (PCPT/MRPP).
Apart from Anibal Cavaco Silva, all of the other candidates lie to the left on the political scale. Four other personalities might join this list that is still not officially closed. These are the president of the Workers' Party for Social Unity (POUS) Carmelinda Pereira, the musician Manuel Joao Vieira, the lawyer José Maria Martins and the nuclear physicist and musician, Manuela Magno.
The list of candidates will officially be closed on 23rd December next.
The Presidential Campaign
The defection of two personalities from the Socialist Party who had been considered potential candidates to the presidency, i.e. former Prime Minister (1995-2001) Antonio Guterres, who chose to chair the High Commission of the UN for Refugees (UNHCR), and the former European Justice Commissioner, Antonio Vitorino, who joined a legal practice has created a vacuum.
In spite of previous declarations in which he announced that he would finally retire from politics -"one never returns to a task that was more or less well done" - Mario Soares did however decided to stand, again for the supreme office. "I am announcing my candidature in the upcoming presidential election in response to the constant appeals on the part of several of the country's personalities and the Socialist Party, especially its leader, but I am not the Socialist Party candidate, I am an independent candidate supported by the Socialist Party and if I am elected I shall be President of all Portuguese," he declared. Since his departure from the Belem Palace, seat of the President of the Republic, the Socialist Party founder has been a State advisor. Chairman of the Foundation that bears his name, he has organised several international seminars and debates. Mario Soares, who was elected MEP in 1999, has been chairman of the special advisory committee of the reform council of Europe. He has also presented a TV programme entitled « The Century of People » to which he invited prestigious personalities such as Henry Kissinger, Felipe Gonzalez, Tony Blair, Michael Gorbatchev, etc. Mario Soares enjoys the support of most of the members of the Socialist Party and, above all, of its secretary general, the Prime Minister José Socrates, of Antonio Costa, Secretary of State and Home Secretary and Jorge Coelho, one of the party's key players and of Socialist Youth (JS).
For his part, Anibal Cavaco Silva is also making a come back on the political stage. He was Prime Minister from 1985-1995 during which time he cohabited sometimes with great difficulty with the President of the Republic at the time, Mario Soares. He was the liberal candidate was then beaten during the presidential election on 14th January 1996 by the present President Jorge Fernando Branco de Sampaio. He declared in March 2005 "I shall only come back if feel that I can contribute something to the country," and announced his candidature on 20th October last.
The presidential election on 22nd January will therefore witness the confrontation between two giants in the Portuguese political arena. For several reasons, the Socialist Party seems badly positioned in order to remain at the Head of State.
This is due primarily to the internal division and the presence of two candidates from the same party. Indeed the candidature of several extreme leftwing candidates such as Jeronimo de Sousa, Francisco Louca, Garcia Pereira and maybe others should disperse the votes on the left even more whilst Anibal Cavaco Silva should easily rally all of the rightwing voters on his side.
Secondly the Socialist Party that has been in power since the general elections on 20th February last must face the discontent on the part of some of the population who reject the austerity plan established by José Socrates' government; this was launched in order to stabilise the significant public deficit that Portugal is experiencing. Since it took up office the socialist government has raised the retirement age of civil servants to 65 i.e. around 10% of the total number - reduced social services and frozen the promotion of civil servants which was previously defined by length of service and now by merit. In addition to this a budgetary deficit over 6.8% of the GDP, the government is undertaking an extremely rigorous policy in terms of public spending and contrary to its promises not to increase taxation has recently increased VAT from 19 to 21%. These are measures that since June 2005 have been the cause of strikes and demonstrations across the entire country. The first sign of popular discontent was the victory of the opposition parties during the local elections on 9th October when they won the country's three main towns: Lisbon, Porto and Sintra.
The liberal candidate, Anibal Cavaco Silva, is the favourite in all the opinion polls and might even be elected during the first round. According to a poll undertaken on 11th and 14th December by Eurosondagem and published on 17th December in the weekly Expresso, the liberal candidate is due to win 55% of the vote and come out far ahead of his two socialist rivals Mario Soares, credited with 20.4% of the vote, and Manuel Alegre (12.5%). Jeronimo de Sousa (PCP) is due to win 5.7% of the vote and Francisco Louca (BE), 4.8%.
Since the start of the 1980's the Portuguese have chosen their President of the Republic several times during the first round (1980, 1991, 1996 and 2001). In the last presidential election on 14th January 2001, Jorge Fernando Branco de Sampaio was elected with 55.55% of the vote ahead of Joaquim Martins Ferreira do Amaral (PSD) who won 34.68% of the vote.
Only the presidential election in 1986 gave rise to a second round that witnessed the victory of Mario Soares with 51.18% of the vote, versus 48.82% for his rival Diego Pinto de Freitas do Amaral (PSD).
The official presidential electoral campaign will take place between 9th and 20th January 2006.
Results of the First Round of the Presidential Election on 14th January 2001 in Portugal
Participation rate: 49.71%