Socialist comes out on top in Portugal

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The Independent Online


The Socialist former mayor of Lisbon, Jorge Sampaio, was elected President of Portugal yesterday, comfortably defeating Anibal Cavaco Silva, the former prime minister who had led a conservative government for 10 years. Mr Sampaio's victory confirms the country's change of course that began in October with the election of a Socialist government.

With almost all the votes counted, Mr Sampaio had 53.8 per cent and Mr Cavaco 46.2 per cent; some 33.5 per cent abstained. Mr Sampaio promised to be a president for all Portuguese. "Among the voters, no one is defeated. You can all count on me," he told cheering crowds. He promised "modernisation and development".

A beaming Socialist Prime Minister, Antonio Guterres, hailed Mr Sampaio as the best successor to 71-year-old Mario Soares, who retires on 9 March after the maximum two five-year terms, and promised him the "total loyalty and collaboration of the government". He also paid tribute to the loser who, he said, "gave the best of himself for 10 years for the benefit of Portugal". Mr Cavaco good-humouredly acknowledged defeat, and wished Mr Sampaio every success.

He blamed no one but himself for his defeat, in tacit recognition that Mr Sampaio's victory owed much to a protest vote against Mr Cavaco's record in government and his technocratic style.

Both candidates campaigned under the colours of the national flag, rather than those of their party, for the non-partisan post. But Mr Sampaio's slogan, "One for All", caught the popular mood more than those of Mr Cavaco: "In the name of Portugal" and "Mega President".

Mr Sampaio's conciliatoryqualities seemed to overcome fears whipped up by his Conservative rival of a concentration of power in the hands of the left. At his closing rally, in a packed Lisbon opera house, the city's former mayor offered "renewal and stability" and promised to humanise links between people and political power . But Portugal's political scene is likely to sour in coming weeks as the ruling Socialists face unpopular economic decisions that will disappoint many.