16/01/2006 - D-7
Anibal Cavaco Silva, the Social Democrat Party candidate, the main opposition party is the favourite in the presidential election on 22nd January next. In all the opinion polls the former Prime Minister (1985-1995) enjoys a significant lead over his two Socialist Party adversaries, Mario Soares, former President of the Republic (1986-1996) and Manuel Alegre. Many polls even announce that Anibal Cavaco Silva will win in the first round.
In effect he is the only candidate representing the Liberal forces and is standing against five candidates who all lie on the left of the political ladder. Although the present Prime Minister, José Socrates supports the candidature of Mario Soares "his experience and prestige could help greatly in bringing unity to Portugal," this has been the source of much criticism within the party that is presently in power, mainly due to the age of the former President of the Republic who is 81. "My 81 years are a stimulant for the old who do not want to die before their time," replies Mario Soares to all those who question his age.
However since the presidential function in Portugal is mainly an honorary one and his powers limited the election on 22nd January next, that will not effect the policy led by the present government led by José Socrates (PS), has to date only generated a limited amount of interest amongst the population. The candidates themselves have given up holding grand meetings and the political parties are keeping a low profile, since the main candidates are running as independents. Anibal Cavaco Silva has in fact put his affiliation to the Social Democrat Party on hold for the election. Political analysts are unanimous in believing that the election will mainly depend on the personality of the candidates.
Anibal Cavaco Silva has said that he wants to "take the country in the right direction and open a window of hope." Prime Minister when Portugal entered the European Community (1986), this professor of economy ruled Portugal during a period of high economic growth which the population is very nostalgic about. During the electoral campaign the former Prime Minister focussed his approach on the socio-economic difficulties presently encountered by Portugal and did not hesitate to refer to the excellent economic results produced by his government. He said that he wanted to help José Socrates' government to boost the country's economy. "No, I am not the country's saviour but I think there is a danger of Portugal achieving the figure of 500,000 unemployed," he stressed.
Mario Soares is standing as "a guarantee for political stability and a unifying factor for the Portuguese." He also maintains that he wants to "work for a socially just distribution of problems." According to the former President of the Republic the election of Anibal Cavaco Silva comprises a "serious danger of making Portugal ungovernable." Mario Soares believes that the former Prime Minister "has not understood the difference between President and Prime Minister and far from solving the country's problems his election would make matters worse by a constitutional conflict."
During the televised debate that took place on the state TV channel RTP on 20th December last and that for the first time, brought both men together, Mario Soares accused Anibal Cavaco Silva of undertaking a campaign as if he was about to be elected Prime Minister. "Anibal Cavaco Silva talks about issues for which he has no competence. He speaks of the crisis that affects us all but he has no competence to undertake a policy neither to stop unemployment as he has promised nor to solve educational problems or any other for that matter. It is the government that is competent for this. The President does not govern and does not have the powers enjoyed by the Prime Minister," declared the former President of the Republic who also pointed out that Anibal Cavaco Silva had "governed during a period of prosperity." The other socialist candidate Manuel Alegre also accused Anibal Cavaco Silva of wanting to "become the commander in chief of the government and to rule from the Belem Palace" (the seat of the President of the Republic). "But I believe and thereby I am very different from Mario Soares, that within the present economic context the President of the Republic cannot be passive, he must be active and accept to work with the government," answered Anibal Cavaco Silva who on several occasions during the programme asked Mario Soares to speak of the future and present his political programme. Six viewers in ten (60%) believed that Anibal Cavaco Silva was more convincing that his adversary during this debate.
Finally the candidate and general secretary of the Communist Party (PCP), Jeronimo de Sousa, recently called for a protest vote against the government whom he accuses of having betrayed its promises and of applying a rightwing policy. He did however say that if there was a second round he would call for a vote in favour of the leftwing candidate who came out first in the election.
According to a poll undertaken between 4th-7th January by Marktest and which was published on 9th January last by the daily Diario de noticias, Anibal Cavaco Silva is due to win the presidential election in the first round with 61% of the vote versus 14.3% for Mario Soares and 11.5% for Manuel Alegre. Jeronimo de Sousa is due to win 6.9% and the leader and candidate running for the Left Block, Francisco Louca 6.1%. The secretary general and candidate of the Communist Party for Portuguese Workers (PCPT/MRPP), Garcia Pereira, is due to win around 1% of the vote.
A victory for Anibal Cavaco Silva would herald a first for a candidate of the Liberal forces in the Presidential election since the Carnation Revolution on 25th April 1974 which marked the end of the dictatorship established by Antonio Oliveira Salazar in 1932.
If on 22nd January none of the candidates wins more than 50% of the vote a second round will be organised two weeks later on 5th February bringing together the two men who came out top in the first round.