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Tight race for Portugese parliament begins

Campaigning for debt-ridden Portugal’s parliament began Sunday, two weeks ahead of a vote that promises to be a tight race with neither the incumbent conservative coalition nor the socialist opposition likely to win an absolute majority.

Unlike Spain or Greece, Portugal has not seen the rise of a protest movement strong enough to challenge the traditional parties at the polls. Neither the left nor the right however appears set to win enough votes to form a stable government.

A poll published Friday showed the Socialist Party led by former Lisbon mayor Antonio Costa slightly ahead with 35.5 percent. The alliance of the centre-right Social Democrats (PSD) and the conservative CDS-PP party was ahead however in parliamentary seats.

The small European nation has not seen such an impasse since it became a democracy in 1974. On the eve of the October 4 vote, it appears possible that both sides will ultimately claim victory.

Portugal is still recovering from its 2011 economic crisis when it became the third eurozone country after Ireland and Greece to be bailed out.

It left the bailout scheme in May 2014 but only after implementing stringent austerity measures in return for funding.

“Considering Portugal’s enormous debt” of around 130 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), “the country cannot afford to have a weak government and to scare off investors,” Commerzbank analyst David Schnautz told AFP.

Portugese President Anibal Cavaco Silva, a conservative, agrees.

“Portugal cannot afford the luxury of adding political disputes to its economic and social problems,” he said.

Neither Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho nor Costa appear ready to form a coalition government however.

“A grand coalition is conceivable only in an extreme situation such as an alien invasion,” Costa joked.

But neither side has a potential ally to team up with.

“If the ruling parties win, they have no other right-wing parties to ally with. If the Socialists win, it is hard to imagine them making a coalition with the Communist Party” though not impossible, political scientist Antonio Costa Pinto said.