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Portugal’s Cavaco Silva re-elected president

Published on 14/02/2011

Portugal's President Anibal Cavaco Silva vowed to slash unemployment and foreign debt as he was was re-elected in the first round on a record low turnout, largely blamed on the country's economic woes.

Cavaco Silva, 71, an economist and member of the opposition Social Democratic Party, got 52.9 percent of the votes, according to near final results released late Sunday.

His main rival, socialist Manuel Alegre, won 19.7 percent of the ballot, in an election that was marked by a turnout of less than 47 percent following a lacklustre and a low-key campaign.

“The immediate priorities are the fight against the scourge of unemployment, the reduction of external debt and the reinforcement of economic competitiveness,” the president said.

“I will be a frame of reference of confidence, stability and solidarity,” he said. “The task we have before us is big and very demanding.”

Some 9.6 million voters were eligible to choose from among six candidates.

Cavaco Silva had touted his experience while campaigning as the country, ruled by a socialist government, remained mired in debt and struggling to avoid a bailout.

“I believe it’s very important for Portugal to have political stability to resolve its problems,” he said shortly after casting his vote.

Earlier, local media blamed the cold weather for a slow start to voting.

The process was not helped by computer failures at several voting stations for two hours that prevented officials from checking the numbers on the cards of some voters, a system that has been gradually introduced since 2008.

The national election committee said the problems had had an impact on turnout, but did not say to what extent.

In addition, several villages had announced boycotts of the vote to back local demands, ranging from access to mobile phone networks to calls for larger cemeteries.

There is growing concern about rising unemployment pegged at 11 percent and poverty as Lisbon implements its third austerity plan in a year.

“I voted Cavaco because he is the one who inspires the most confidence,” Gloria Mendes, 73, told AFP after she cast her ballot in the capital Lisbon.

“With all this confusion, the change now would be a big mistake,” said Mendes, a retired nurse.

Amidst little debate, the Cavaco Silva criticised the socialist government for failing to react quickly to shore up its dwindling public finances.

Backed by a conservative minority in parliament, the polls tipped him to comfortably beat Alegre, 74, who had the nominal backing of the socialists and the far left.

Alegre however was known for his differences with Prime Minister Jose Socrates and the Socialist Party kept to the background during campaigning.

Though it carries great moral authority, the Portuguese presidency has limited executive power, though the president can dissolve parliament.

Since the end of Portugal’s dictatorship in 1974, all incumbent presidents standing for a second term have been re-elected.

In the last presidential poll in 2006, Cavaco Silva, who also served as prime minister from 1985-95, won in the first round against a fractious left, whose main contenders were Alegre and former socialist president Mario Soares.

This time around in the capital Lisbon, the campaign was virtually invisible, with no posters on walls or leaflets handed out.

Portugal last week passed a key credibility test with the markets, raising 1.25 billion euros ($1.70 billion) for long-term debt at slightly reduced interest rates from a previous sale in November.

But analysts say it is only a matter of time before Lisbon seeks help as rates could still rise to levels that would require bailouts, in the same way that Greece in May and Ireland in November eventually caved in.