Portugal’s New President Demands Financial Discipline
LISBON, Portugal – A center-right candidate scored a resounding victory in Portugal’s presidential election Sunday, warning he would use the largely ceremonial post to prevent the center-left anti-austerity government from worsening the debt-heavy country’s financial health.
Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, a veteran moderate politician and law professor, collected more than half the votes against nine rivals.
With 99 percent of the votes counted, Rebelo de Sousa won 52 percent while his nearest rival came in with less than half of that.
Rebelo de Sousa will move into the head of state’s riverside pink palace in Lisbon in March, replacing Anibal Cavaco Silva, who has served the maximum of two five-year terms.
The president has no executive power, and is largely a figurehead, but can be an influential voice and in a crisis has the power to dissolve Parliament if he feels the country is going off track.
A Socialist minority government runs Portugal with the backing of the Communist Party and the radical Left Bloc. The government is trying to pull off a balancing act by ending austerity measures while pledging to continue the financial prudence adopted after Portugal’s 78 billion-euro ($84 billion) bailout in 2011 amid a eurozone financial crisis.
The government’s critics say that is a risky policy in Portugal whose economy is struggling to gain momentum and where the jobless rate is over 11 percent.
Rebelo de Sousa said in his victory speech he expected the government to generate more economic growth “without compromising financial stability.”
At the same time he promised to be impartial and encourage consensus between political parties, “healing the wounds” of the recent crisis.
Prime Minister Antonio Costa vowed his “full cooperation” with the president.
Rebelo de Sousa, 67, has had a long career in the public eye, working as a newspaper editor, a popular media pundit, a junior member of governments since the 1970s, and a former member of the European Parliament.
Turnout was low Sunday at 52 percent after a dull two-week campaign.