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‘Professor Marcelo’: Portugal’s TV pundit turned president

Re-elected Portuguese President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, known as “Professor Marcelo” to his fans, shot to fame as a TV pundit and is always ready to be photographed with his admirers for a “Marselfie”.

He knows how to work the camera — photos of the head of state wearing Bermuda shorts in a supermarket queue went viral last May, and he won praise when he threw himself into the sea to help two young girls after their kayak overturned in August.

Starting in the early 2000s, he made his debut as a political analyst on TV, delivering cutting commentary on politics, books and sport to a viewership that quickly grew.

“People love Marcelo because he is entertaining,” said biographer Vitor Matos ahead of Sunday’s poll in which the conservative, 72, fended off challenges from the Socialists and a new far-right party.

Born in Lisbon in 1948, the former law professor comes from a family of political elites and grew up during Portugal’s repressive Salazar regime. His father, a doctor, was minister and colonial governor under authoritarian ruler Marcelo Caetano.

Rebelo de Sousa entered politics after that regime fell in 1974, and participated in the founding of the Social Democratic Party, which he ran from 1996 to 1999.

– Jose Mourinho a fan –

In his re-election victory speech, he pledged to make the fight against the coronavirus his “first priority”.

Portugal recorded its worst daily coronavirus death toll on Sunday, with more than 85,000 infections and almost 1,500 deaths reported in the past week.

That is the highest rate worldwide in proportion to its population of more than 10 million, according to an AFP tally based on government figures.

Rebelo de Sousa himself returned an “asymptomatic” positive test earlier this month, and went into isolation in the presidential palace in Lisbon.

In Portugal, the president is elected for a five-year term, which can be renewed once. Though he has no executive power, he plays the role of arbiter in a political crisis, having the power to dissolve parliament and pave the way for legislative elections.

In the 2016 polls that brought him to power, Rebelo de Sousa picked up support from one international celebrity: fellow countryman and former Chelsea coach Jose Mourinho, who backed him in a video on YouTube.

“I know the man and the politician. We need a charismatic winner,” said the former Real Madrid and Inter Milan coach.