Portugal’s Socialists tipped for re election

LISBON Portugal votes on Sunday with Prime

Minister Antonio Costa's Socialists tipped to win a second straight term

after presiding over a period of solid economic growth following years of

austerity.

Costa's likely re election bucks the trend of declining centre left

fortunes and the rise of far right, populist parties seen elsewhere in

Europe.

Final opinion polls published Friday put support for the Socialist Party

(PS) which has governed for the past four years with the backing in

parliament of two smaller hard left parties at 36 39 percent, compared to

25 30 percent for nearest rivals the centre right Social Democrats (PSD).

If these results are confirmed the PS would boost their number in

Portugal's 230 seat parliament but still fall short of an absolute majority,

meaning former Lisbon mayor Costa would once again need the support of at

least one other leftist party to govern.

Polling stations open at 8:00 am (0700 GMT) and will close at 7:00 pm (1800

GMT), with results announced later on Sunday.

Growth up, deficit down

After coming to power in 2015, Costa, 58, moved quickly to undo some of the

unpopular austerity measures introduced by the previous PSD led government in

return for a 78 billion euro ($85 billion) international bailout that kept

finances afloat after Portugal was clobbered by the eurozone debt crisis.

Taking advantage of the global economic recovery, he reversed cuts to

public sector wages and pensions while still managing to bring the budget

deficit down to nearly zero this year the lowest level since Portugal's

return to democracy in 1974.

On his watch Portugal's economic growth was higher than the European

average in recent years 3.5 percent in 2017 and 2.4 percent in 2018 �

while the jobless rate fell the level before the debt crisis.

Every vote counts and we need a strong PS to guarantee four more years of

stability, Costa said Friday on the last day campaigning was allowed.

His main adversary, PSD leader Rui Rio, has railed against high taxes and

inadequate public investment, which he argues are hurting public services,

but he appears to have accepted defeat.

It would be nice to be able to say that I am almost sure to win, but it is

not the case, he said during an interview with TSF radio on Friday.

New ally?

Rio has managed to reduce the margin separating the PSD and the PS in

recent weeks, especially after a scandal concerning former defence minister

Jose Azeredo Lopes resurged.

Lopes was charged last week with abuse of power and denial of justice over

his role in the alleged cover up of an arms theft from a military depot two

years ago.

The tensions of the campaign appeared to be getting to the outgoing

premier.

When an elderly voter challenged him during a final campaign appearance on

Friday in Lisbon over the government's handling of wildfires in central

Portugal in June 2017 that killed more than 60 people, the normally affable

Costa lost his temper.

The two parties which propped up Costa's previous government the

Communists and the Left Bloc together have about 17 percent support,

slightly less than the score they obtained in the last election.

But Sunday's vote could give him another potential government ally as polls

suggest an upstart People Animals Nature party (PAN) founded by a Buddhist

philosopher could ride a wave of concern about climate change and capture

three to four percent of the vote, giving it a potential kingmaker role.

The most probable outcome is a Socialist party minority government with

support from radical left parties or, less likely, the small environmentalist

party PAN, said Federico Santi, an analyst at political risk consultancy

Eurasia Group.

Source: Bangladesh Sangbad Sangstha (BSS)