Portugal faces snap elections

The President of Portugal, Mario Soares, is to decide shortly whether or not to dissolve parliament and call early general elections, following Monday's surprise announcement by the Prime Minister, Anibal Cavaco Silva, that he was stepping down as leaderof the centre-right Social Democrat Party (PSD).

Mr Cavaco Silva, ending months of political suspense, said he would stand down as Prime Minister at the next elections, due in October. "I have argued for the need for renewal in the PSD," he said on Monday, "and I want to be the first to give a good example." He attributed his decision to "personal and family reasons" but assured his compatriots he would stay until his term ends.

It is thought that Mr Cavaco Silva has his eyes on Portugal's presidential contest next year and has decided to withdraw from the front line to avoid being harmed should his party suffer electoral defeat before then. Opinion polls suggest the Social Democrats are unlikely to win a third term and the opposition Socialists will win the largest proportion of votes. In the latest poll, 44.8 per cent said they would vote Socialist and 39.8 per cent Social Democrat. The Socialists' leader, Antonio Guterres, has been calling for elections to be brought forward to June.

Portugal enjoyed nearly 10 years of stability under Mr Cavaco Silva, but his leadership was weakened recently by government scandals. The most serious is the revelation last week that a Defence Ministry company repaired a pair of helicopter engines for the armed forces of Indonesia, a country with which Portugal severed diplomatic relations in 1975 after its invasion of the former Portuguese colony of East Timor.

For 20 years, Portugal spearheaded an international campaign against the Jakarta regime and in support of self-determination for East Timor. The revelation that Indonesian engines were repaired in Portuguese air force workshops in 1993 - months after Indonesian troops massacred peaceful demonstrators in the Timorese capital, Dili - prompted Portugal's three main opposition parties this week to demand the resignation of the Defence Minister, Fernando Nogueira.

Another row simmers over Portuguese military assistance to Angola, contravening the terms of neutrality under which Lisbon participates in the UN contact group on the country.

Under Mr Cavaco Silva's rule, Portuguese inflation dropped from an annual rate of 30 per cent to below 5 per cent, and unemployment, at 5.5 per cent, is one of the lowest in Europe. His iron grip on public spending and his Thatcherite pursuit of the freemarket won him support among those who feared the helter-skelter politics ushered in by the "carnation revolution" of 1974.

The Prime Minister is one of Europe's longest serving heads of government, outstripped only by Helmut Kohl and Felipe Gonzalez. He made no great effort to make friends, however, and was particularly cool with journalists.

Mr Cavaco Silva's decision has thrown the ruling party into a leadership crisis, since there are no clear successors. Mr Nogueira, his deputy, was the obvious choice but his chances now appear to have been dashed. The young Foreign Minister, Jose Manuel Durao Barroso, could be a contender, but intense in-fighting is likely to precede the party's national congress in mid-February.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA celebration of British elections
Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Life and Style
A nurse tends to a recovering patient on a general ward at The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
Chuck Norris pictured in 1996
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Lucas, I SCREAM DADDIO, Installation View, British Pavilion 2015
artWhy Sarah Lucas is the perfect choice to represent British art at the Venice Biennale
A voter placing a ballot paper in the box at a polling station
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen (Kristin Scott Thomas) in The Audience
theatreReview: Stephen Daldry's direction is crisp in perfectly-timed revival
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin

£13676.46 - £16411.61 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment Cons...

Ashdown Group: Marketing or Business Graduate Opportunity - Norwich - £22,000

£18000 - £22000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Business and Marketing Gr...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Are you great at building rela...

Ashdown Group: Database Analyst - Birmingham - £22,000 plus benefits

£20000 - £22000 per annum + excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Application Sup...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power