Portugal's 'ferocious animal' PM finally defeated
Jose Socrates, Portugal's outgoing prime minister who has described himself as a "ferocious animal" when it comes to campaigning, on Sunday lost the toughest fight of his political career.
The 53-year-old announced he was stepping down as leader of the Socialists after the party lost an early general election Sunday to the centre-right Social Democrats (PSD).
"This defeat is entirely mine and I want to assume full responsibility for it," he said in an address to party supporters in Lisbon.
"I feel it is necessary to open a new political cycle that is able to prepare a consistent alternative. I want to give the Socialist Party the space to discuss its future and select a new leadership."
The defeat was a sharp reversal for Socrates who led the Socialists to their first majority in parliament in 2005 just one year after he was elected leader of the party.
He managed to be re-elected in 2009 in the midst of the global economic downturn and stiff opposition to his austerity measures intended to rein in a ballooning public deficit, but lost the majority in parliament.
"I am not one to turn his back on difficulties, to run from a fight," he has said.
Sunday's early election was triggered by Socrates' resignation at the end of March after the parliamentary opposition, led by the PSD, rejected his minority government's fourth austerity package in just under a year.
Two weeks later Portugal was forced to request a bailout package from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund because of its inability to meet its refinancing obligations, a move Socrates had resisted for months.
During the campaign he vowed to teach his political adversaries, who he blames for provoking a political crisis to trigger the early elections, "a lesson".
But in the end Socrates fell victim to anger at the worsening state of the economy, with unemployment at a record high, and the bailout request.
Born on September 6, 1957, to a middle-class family near Vila Real in the north he has said it was Portugal's 1974 "Carnation Revolution", which put an end to a 42-year right-wing dictatorship, that awoke him to political life.
After a brief passage through the PSD, he joined the Socialist Party in 1981, when it was in opposition.
His full name is Jose Socrates Carvalho Pinto de Sousa, but after entering politics he dropped the family name and began using his middle name as his last name.
His political opponents say that calling himself Socrates, like the ancient Greek philosopher, was no more than political marketing.
A civil engineer by training, he was first elected to parliament at the age of 30 and has held several cabinet posts, including that of environment minister under former prime minister Antonio Guterres.
Socrates has faced several controversies which have tarnished his image during his six years in power.
He has faced repeated questions over clearance he gave when environment minister for the construction of a shopping mall on protected land near Lisbon, just days before a 2002 general election in which the Socialists lost power.
An investigation into the so-called "Freeport" case, named after the shopping mall that was built, was finally shelved in July 2010.
There have been questions, too, over the authenticity of his university degree.
To those who accuse him of having forgotten his left-wing origins, Socrates points to the loosening of the nation's abortion laws, the approval of gay marriage and a gender-parity law passed under his government.
Socrates, a divorced father of two sons, is a fan of jogging and rock music.
© 2011 AFP