Portugal’s Socialists win re-election

LISBON Portugal's incumbent Prime Minister

Antonio Costa's Socialists won a general election marked by low turnout on

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

of austerity.

The Socialist Party (PS) took 36.65 percent of the vote, followed by the

centre-right Social Democrats (PSD) with 27.9 percent, according to near

total results from the interior ministry.

That left the PS, which has governed for the past four years with the

support of two smaller hard-left parties, with 106 seats in the 230-seat

parliament, up from 86 seats in the outgoing assembly and just ten seats

short of an outright majority. Four seats still must be attributed according

to the results of votes cast abroad.

The election bucks the trend of declining centre-left fortunes and the

rise of far-right populist forces seen elsewhere in Europe.

A new far-right formation, Chega! or That's Enough! entered parliament

for the first time but it won a single seat.

Turnout was just 54.5 percent, the lowest level for a general election

since Portugal returned to democracy after a decades-long right-wing

dictatorship was toppled in 1974.

The question now is who Costa, 58, a former Lisbon mayor, will pick as his

allies.

After the last general election in 2015 in which the PS finished second,

Costa convinced the Communists and the Left Bloc to support a minority

Socialist government, an unprecedented alliance that foes nicknamed the

geringonca, or odd contraption.

� 'Stability is essential' �

During his victory speech Costa said he wanted to renew this experience

of an alliance with the hard-left.

The election shows that the Portuguese like the 'geringonca', they like

this political solution, he said as supporters chanted Victory!.

Stability is essential for Portugal's international credibility and for

attracting investors. The PS will strive to find solutions that ensure this

stability for the entire legislature.

Both the Left Bloc, which won 19 seats just as in the last election, and

the Communists, which won 12 seats, five fewer than in the last polls, said

they were willing to once again back the Socialists.

A strengthened PS has more alternatives to get laws approved in

parliament, political analyst Pedro Norton told public television RTP.

This is an incentive for it to govern alone, by searching for ad hoc

agreements to govern instead of forming a formal agreement, he added.

The election gave Costa another potential governing partner as the upstart

People-Animals-Nature party (PAN) which has backed his budgets in the past

won four seats, up from just one.

� 'Live more comfortably' �

After coming to power in 2015, Costa undid 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 Union

average in recent years � 2.4 percent in 2018 � while the jobless rate fell

to 6.4 percent, the level before the debt crisis, but critics complain of low

salaries, job insecurity and soaring property prices amid a tourism boom.

Retired municipal worker Antonio Tavares, 76, said he voted for the

Socialists because the government raised pensions by 50-100 euros ($55-110)

per month.

It's not a lot, it should be more, but that allows one to live more

comfortably, he said after casting his ballot in Lisbon.

The PS had enjoyed a double-digit lead over the PSD for many months but

the gap between Portugal's two main parties shrunk in the final stretch of

the campaign, 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 in

June 2017.

Source: Bangladesh Sangbad Sangstha (BSS)