Portugal winds up campaign, opposition edges ahead

3rd June 2011, Comments 0 comments

Portugal's centre-right opposition extended its poll lead over the ruling Socialists on the last day of campaigning Friday before an election to decide who will implement a 78-billion-euro bailout deal.

Prime Minister Jose Socrates and the leader of the Social Democrats (PSD), Pedro Passos Coelho, have until midnight to convince undecided voters before Saturday's "day of reflection" when campaigning is banned.

Both candidates were spending the last day of the campaign ahead of Sunday's vote in Lisbon, with large rallies planned for the evening.

The PSD has the backing of 36.7 percent of voters against 30.8 percent for the Socialists, according to an average of the last four published polls.

At the start of the campaign two weeks ago, the two parties were running virtually neck-and-neck.

If confirmed the PSD would fall short of an absolute majority in the 230-seat parliament but they could govern in coalition with the smaller conservative CDS-PP party as they did between 2002 and 2005.

With the exception of Portugal's far-left parties, all parties have agreed to implement the bailout programme the government reached in May which calls for further austerity measures and deep economic reforms.

Passos Coelho, 46, has even repeatedly promised to "go beyond" the demands imposed by the so-called "troika" -- the European Union, International Monetary Fund and European Central Bank -- in terms of reforms and privatisations.

He has warned that if Socrates, 53, is re-elected "within six months" Portugal could find itself in the same "tragic" situation as Socialist-run Greece, which now needs a second bailout.

At the start of the week Passos Coelho suggested that he was the preferred candidate of the bailout fund donors.

"They can't say that the government must change but, deep down, that is what they are counting on," he said.

The PSD leader accuses the Socrates, in power since 2005, of having steered Portugal to the brink of bankrupcy and having "lied to the Portuguese people over the real state of the country".

Socrates resigned in March, triggering the need for the early election, after the opposition rejected in parliament his minority government's fourth austerity package in just under a year.

Two weeks later, Lisbon was forced to ask for in international bailout to keep the country of around 10.6 million people from bankruptcy.

The outgoing prime minister blames the PSD, which had backed previous fiscal tightening, for provoking a political crisis to topple the government "out of a greed for power".

He has accused Passos Coelho of "being on the side of the troika instead of being on the side of the country" and has warned that the PSD have a "radical right-wing agenda" to privatise public services.

"Portugal needs an experienced and competent government but also a government that does no leave anyone by the side of the road," Socrates has said on the campaign trail.

The Socialist leader promised his adversaries "a big surprise" on election night during a speech late on Thursday in the northern town of Barcelos that was briefly interrupted when a handful of protesters threw eggs at the stage.

The prime minister used the incident to denounce what he called "an agressive campaign of hatred" against him on the part of the right and the far-left, who have all ruled out any post-election alliance with him.

Martim, a 41-year-old waiter, said there was no reason to vote.

"The elections will not change anything because at any rate it is the 'troika' that will rule," he said.

© 2011 AFP

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