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Portugal - Presidential Election

Presidential Election in Portugal, 23rd January 2011

Presidential Election in Portugal, 23rd January 2011

03/01/2011 - Analysis

On 11th October last head of State Anibal Cavaco Silva set the date of the first round of the presidential election on 23rd January 2011. A few days later on 26th October he announced that he was running for re-election as he spoke during a televised speech live from the Belem palace, home of the Portuguese president in Lisbon. "After a great deal of thought I have decided to run again for the Presidency of the Republic. Given the extremely difficult situation Portugal finds itself in I think it is my duty to stand. With my experience and my knowledge I can help my country," he declared. Just one month before the presidential election Anibal Cavaco Silva is the favourite. Several polls are forecasting his victory in the first round. If none of the candidates wins the absolute majority on 23rd January a second round will be organised between the two candidates who win the greatest number of votes two weeks later i.e. on 6th February.

The Presidential Function

The President of the Republic of Portugal is elected every five years by direct universal suffrage. Anyone who wishes to stand for the supreme office must be aged at least 35 and 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 facto to new general elections.

6 people are officially running as candidates:
- Anibal Cavaco Silva, 71, outgoing head of State, Professor of Economy and former Prime Minister (1985-1995), stands as an independent candidate but enjoys the support of the Social Democratic Party (PSD), the main opposition party and the of People's Party led by Paulo Portas;
- Manuel Alegre, 74, the Socialist Party candidate (PS) also supported by the Left Bloc (BE) and the Atlantic Democratic Party (PDA). He stood in the previous presidential election on 22nd January 2006, when he did not enjoy the support of the Socialist Party whose official candidate was former President of the Republic (1986-1996), Mario Soares. Manuel Alegre came second winning 20.72% of the vote, 14.34% going to Mario Soares);
- Francisco Lopes, 35, the Communist Party candidate (PCP), also supported by the ecologists in Os Verdes (the Greens) party;
- Fernando Nobre, 59, an independent candidate, founder of the International Medical Assistance Group (AMI);
- Defensor de Moura, 64, former mayor of Viana do Castelo and Vice-President of the Parliamentary Committee for Foreign Affairs. A Socialist MP he is running as an independent;
- José Manuel Coelho, regional councillor of Madeira and member of the New Democracy Party which is not represented in Parliament.

The Portuguese Crisis

At present Portugal is experiencing a serious socio-economic crisis. In 2009 the GDP contracted by 2.6%, the budgetary deficit rose to 9.3% of the GDP and public debt rose to 82% (it is due to rise to 86.6% in 2011). Unemployment totals 10% of the working population (10.9% in the third quarter of 2010). The country is suffering a structural deficit due to its low growth potential that is in turn linked to a lack of competitiveness of its companies. On 10th June last, the day of the Portuguese national festival, President Cavaco Silva said, "As I warned previously we have come to an untenable situation. We have a great deal of work ahead, an enormous task and inevitable sacrifices to make. Political leaders have a specific responsibility in the national cohesion contract that we have to establish. It is the Portuguese people as a whole which has to be the focus of the priorities on the political and social agenda that is guided in effect by the values of justice and cohesion." Last autumn Anibal Cavaco Silva met the representatives of all of the political parties – "a necessity to avoid a political crisis that would affect the markets negatively," he said. The outgoing President called on the Social Democratic Party to come to a consensus with the government led by Prime Minister José Socrates (PS) as the austerity plan was being voted upon in parliament. The minority government indeed needed "the constructive abstention" of the Social Democratic Party in order for its austerity measures, vital for the recovery of public finances, to be approved. But opposition leader, Pedro Passos (PSD) firstly rejected the initial budgetary negotiation offer refusing to have anything to do with the new tax rises which led to further tension on the international markets and to the rise in interest rates on the debt in Portugal.

José Socrates' government approved an unprecedented austerity plan (reduction in the salaries of civil servants earning over 1,500€ per month, the freezing of retirement pensions, the capping of social aid, a 2 point VAT rise which now lies at 23%, a reduction in tax rebates for businesses) in order to reduce radically the country's deficit. Indeed by the end of 2011 this has to brought down from 7.3% of the GDP to 4.6% by making five billion euros worth of savings; 2/3 of these will come from budgetary cuts and 1/3 from an increase in taxes. On 24th November last three million Portuguese went on strike in protest against the austerity measures taken by the government and the country experienced its first general strike in 22 years. Prime Minister José Socrates, however rejected the idea that Portugal might need a rescue plan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). "We have not had a bank crisis nor a real estate bubble. Our only problem lies in an excessive public deficit linked to the world crisis and we are now correcting that," he declared.

The Presidential Campaign

Outgoing President Anibal Cavaco Silva has promised to undertake a simple, cheap electoral campaign out of respect for the economic difficulties experienced by Portugal. If he is re-elected the head of State is promising to govern in a neutral way together with the government led by José Socrates. In March last 45 year-old Pedro Passos Coelho became the new leader of the Social Democratic Party in place of Manuela Ferreira Leite. With 61.05% of militants' vote he came out ahead of his rivals, José Pedro Aguiar-Branco and especially Paulo Rangel, who had however been pinpointed as the favourite before the internal election took place. The latter, an MP in Madeira was the PSD's lead candidate in the European elections on 4-7th June 2009 when the party won by a wide margin (31.7% and 26.53% for the PS). Pedro Passos Coelho supports the candidature of Anibal Cavaco Silva in the presidential election and said he was confident that the outgoing head of State will be re-elected by a wide margin in the first round of the election. On several occasions Manuel Alegre has criticised Anibal Cavaco Silva, a trained economist, with regard to his silence over the "the most serious interest rate crisis since the carnation revolution (25th April 1974, the date on which the dictatorship established in 1932 by Antonio Oliveira Salazar came to an end) and which threatens our country's ability to take autonomous decisions." He also protested against the PSD's desire to modify and liberalise the Portuguese Constitution. The PSD has indeed said that it wants to do away with the articles in the fundamental law which qualifies education and healthcare as belonging to the public sphere. Manuel Alegre sees in the outgoing President's party's desire a threat to "the balance of power and the constitutional foundations of the country notably with regard to education, public health and labour law." Prime Minister José Socrates has declared that this modification of the Constitution would "handicap" the Welfare State. The socialist candidate said that if he is elected head of State he would place his veto on any attack on the Welfare State and that he would protect the Constitution of Portugal. Manuel Alegre is undertaking a campaign amongst Portuguese emigrants living abroad whom he is calling on to "take part in the decision and vote in support of a candidate with a progressive vision."
Portugal has modified its electoral law abolishing the postal vote for the five million Portuguese living abroad (700,000 live in France). Now they have to go to an embassy or a consulate to fulfil their civic duty. Socialist MP José Lello, one of the authors of the law justified this reform because of the need for greater transparency in the election and a more effective fight against electoral fraud. "During the last general elections the press spoke of the unexplained disappearance of several hundred voting slips that were intended for emigrants," he declared. Manuel Alegre said he was pleased with this recent change which in his opinion "removes all discrimination and restrictions," and comprises "a major step for citizens' rights that improves our democracy and the presidential election." For its part the PSD is accusing the PS of "being afraid" of the emigrants' votes. With each election the party in power is always slightly outdone by Pedro Passos Coelho's party amongst the voters abroad. "I support Manuel Alegre, the candidate who believes and has a progressive vision of the country," declared José Socrates, whom Manuel Alegre sometimes criticises. The PS approved 200 votes against 10 and one abstention support for Manuel Alegre on 23rd January. The socialist candidate who has been able to develop relations and form links with other leftwing parties in view of the election is convinced that "it is possible to defeat Anibal Cavaco Silva and therefore beat an outgoing president of the Republic for the first time in either the first or second round." We should remember that all Portuguese heads of State were elected (or re-elected) in the first round since the country's return to democracy in 1974.

As in 2006, the socialist candidate will be facing another socialist in the first round. Indeed MP Defensor de Moura decided to run for the supreme office. "My campaign is complimentary to that of Manuel Alegre; my opponents are not Manuel Alegre or Fernando Nobre but the rightwing campaign undertaken by Anibal Cavaco Silva," he declared. Further to the left there is Francisco Lopes, an electrical engineer from the communist stronghold of Setubal. "The president's seat has to be occupied by someone who supports something other than the rightwing policy undertaken by the socialists in office or the Social Democratic opposition," declared the communist candidate.

According to the most recent poll by Eurosondagem published at the end of December the outgoing head of State, Anibal Cavaco Silva is due to win the presidential election in the first round with 60% of the vote. The gap separating him from his main rival Manuel Alegre is said to have grown in comparison with the previous polls. The socialist candidate is due to win 30%. Far behind is the independent Fernando Nobre who is due to win 4.8%, then communist Francisco Lopes with 4.5% and socialist MP Defensor de Moura with 0.7%. Regional councillor for Madeira, José Manuel Coelhoi was not on the list of candidates when these polls were undertaken.

The official election campaign starts on 9th January and will end on 21st.

Source : Portuguese Electoral Commission
Publishing Director: Pascale JOANNIN
The authors
Corinne Deloy
Author of the European Elections Monitor (EEM) for the Robert Schuman Foundation and project manager at the Institute for Political Studies (Sciences Po).
Fondation Robert Schuman
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