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Portugal’s president re-elected: TV projections

Published on 14/02/2011

Projections on Sunday suggested that Portugal's President Anibal Cavaco Silva was re-elected outright in a first round with up to 58 percent of the vote, Portuguese television reported.

Cavaco Silva obtained between 51.6 and 58 percent of the vote, ahead of his main rival, poet Manuel Alegre, who took 17.1 to 21 percent, according to projections from state channel RTP and private channel SIC.

Voting in Portugal’s presidential election ended Sunday with estimates suggesting a low turnout in what has been a low-key campaign. Cavaco Silva had been widely expected to win.

Some 9.6 million voters were eligible to choose from among six candidates, but as polling stations closed at 7:00 pm (1900 GMT) estimates from RTP television suggested abstention ran at between 49 and 54 percent.

Cavaco Silva, 71, an economist and member of the opposition Social Democratic Party, touted his experience 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 Sunday, shortly after casting his vote.

Seeking a second term, Cavaco Silva warned voters against engaging in any “social experiment” at the polls as well as “the very high cost” of a second round if he failed to secure an outright win Sunday.

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 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 incumbent president criticised the socialist government for failing to react quickly to shore up its dwindling public finances.

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

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

Throughout the campaign, Alegre repeated he was “not the candidate of the government”, but positioned himself as a “free man” carrying “new hope for Portugal” against “the dictatorship of the financial markets”.

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.

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 dollars) 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.