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Portuguese leaders wind up election campaign

Portuguese party leaders will Friday make a final push for votes before an early general election that will decide who will implement the country’s 78-billion-euro bailout agreement with the IMF and the EU.

The centre-right Social Democrats (PSD) have seen their lead over Prime Minister Jose Socrates’ Socialists widen in recent days but the party still falls short of the level of support needed to secure an outright majority in the 230-seat parliament in Sunday’s election.

The PSD has 36 percent support against 31 percent for the Socialists, according to a poll published Thursday in daily Diario Noticias which used the largest sample of all the polls published so far during the campaign.

The result would likely force PSD leader Pedro Passos Coelho to reach accommodation with the smaller conservative CDS-PP party which has 11 percent support according to the poll in order to pass legislation.

The paper said the poll results show voters want a change and “will punish” Socrates for the “serious financial situation which the country finds itself in” after his six years in power which forced Lisbon to appeal for outside aid.

“But it is also clear that they do not have total confidence in the alternative that is Passos Coelho, not giving him ‘carte blanche’ to be prime minister with an absolute majority,” it added in an editorial.

Both Socrates, 53, and Passos Coelho, 46, are scheduled to spend the last day of the campaign in Lisbon with large rallies planned for the evening.

Under Portuguese law the 24 hours prior to an election is a “day of reflection” when campaigning is not allowed and no polls can be published.

The early election was triggered by Socrates’ resignation at the end of March after his minority government failed to pass its fourth package of austerity measures in just under a year in parliament.

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

Under the terms of the bailout agreement — which was signed by all three main parties — Portugal agreed to put in place more painful spending cuts and economic reforms in exchange for the financial aid.

Socrates argues he did everything he could to avoid a bailout. He blames the PSD, which had backed previous austerity measures, for provoking a political crisis to topple the government “out of a greed for power”.

The outgoing prime minister accuses Passos Coelho, who has said he will “go beyond” what was agreed with the IMF in terms of privatisations and economic reforms, of wanting the bailout to impose a “radical right-wing agenda”.

The PSD leader argues Socrates steered Portugal to the brink of bankrupcy.

He stepped up his attacks on the government during the final week of the campaign, warning that if Socrates is re-elected “within six months” Portugal could find itself in the same “tragic” situation as Greece, which needs a second bailout package.

Whoever wins the election will face a race against the clock to implement the reforms and spending cuts agreed to in exchange for the bailout.

Under the agreement, Portugal must reduce its public deficit to 5.9 percent of GDP by the end of the year from 9.1 percent last year, which will require savings of 5.7 billion euros.