Debt-laden Madeira votes long-time leader back

10th October 2011, Comments 0 comments

Alberto Joao Jardim, president of Portugal's autonomous Madeira archipelago, won regional elections Sunday, despite being blamed for debts that boosted the country's deficit.

Official results showed that his centre-right Social Democrat Party (PSD) obtained 48.56 percent of the vote, its worst result under Jardim's 33-year leadership.

The score was good enough however for the party to take 25 seats out of the 47 in parliament, allowing Jardim to retain his post as regional president.

The right-wing CDS-PP, which forms the national ruling coalition along with the PSD, came second with 17.63 percent, well up on the 5.34 percent it scored in the last elections in 2007.

Portugal's main opposition party, the Socialist Party, had to content itself with third place taking just 11.5 percent of the vote, down from second place and 15 percent in 2007.

The far-flung Atlantic archipelago picked a new parliament amid resentment from Lisbon at a recent debt scandal that piled more pressure on its teetering economy.

The PSD has also been governing in Lisbon since June but Jardim has angered the Portuguese government lately with a scandal that has further harmed Portugal's already ailing economy.

The southern European country was bailed out earlier this year by the EU and the International Monetary Fund, the third country to be rescued after Ireland and Greece.

On Friday, the Fitch ratings agency said the outlook for Portugal was negative, meaning that its BBB- rating could be further downgraded in the future.

Madeira, which is best known for its fortified sweet wine, has thrived as tourism developed and turned the once poor Portuguese province into one of the country's richest regions.

But the extent of the debt clocked up by the archipelago's Jardim administration in the process has recently emerged, revealing that Madeira was on the brink of default.

Madeira's supremo is believed to have accumulated a public debt of 6.3 billion euros, a considerable amount considering the island only has 270,000 inhabitants.

The Madeira bill further burdened Portugal's deficit, which stood at 8.3 percent of GDP in June, some way from the target of 5.9 percent Lisbon has pledged for year's end.

The central government said Madeira's uncovered debt risked denting its credibility with creditors who forked out 78 billion euros to save its economy in exchange for an austerity plan.

"These irregularities... impact negatively on the country's credibility," Finance Minister Vitor Gaspar said recently.

Madeira's maverick boss retorted that his territory's debt was "a drop in the ocean" and vowed to silence his critics with "a good beating" in Sunday's elections.

Jardim modernised the archipelago, bringing motorways and state-of-the-art hotel infrastructure, but some other pharaonic projects have had to be abandoned.

© 2011 AFP

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