Portugal is holding a presidential election this Sunday. The two main candidates are both emblematic figures.
The incumbent Cavaco Silva is supported by two right-wing parties, the PSD and the CDS-PP (the former being the largest party in opposition).
His main challenger, Manuel Alegre, is backed by the Socialist Party headed by Prime-Minister José Sócrates and the Bloco de Esquerda.
A number of other candidates are also in the running: Francisco Lopes represents the CDU (the former Communist Party); José Manuel Coelho, candidate for the PND-M and two independent candidates, Fernando Nobre (President of AMI, a medical NGO) and Defensor Moura.
According to the Portuguese system the role of the President has strong symbolic connotations. Although lacking executive powers, the president can nevertheless dissolve Parliament as well as veto legislation. In addition to this he presides over the main political advisory body (Conselho de Estado) and is also the Armed Forces Supreme Commander.
If no one candidate secures more than 50% of the votes the election will go to a second round.
The polls suggest an advantage for Cavaco Silva, 71, an economist with a long political career that includes two absolute parliamentary majorities, in 1985 and 1991 respectively.
In 1996 he ran for the presidency for the first time but lost to socialist candidate, Jorge Sampaio. Over the following 10 years Cavaco Silva retreated to academia. In 2006 he returned to the limelight and ran as an independent candidate in the presidential election. Cavaco won the ballot in the first round.
This marked the beginning of a strategic co-operation with the government headed by Socialist, José Sócrates. This spirit prevailed until the parliamentary elections of 2009 when the first cracks appeared.
Socrates’ re-election, this time without a majority, prompted a closer co-operation with both the President and the other parties.
As president, Cavaco Silva always stressed the importance of his role as a moderator between all political sides. Far from seeing his job as purely ceremonial, Silva has vetoed legislation more than ten times in such different areas as the media, family and the political and administrative status of the Azores.
The economic and financial crisis is the main issue surrounding the election. Politicians are keen to avoid being bailed out by Europe. The main challenge for the government is to reduce public debt from a staggering 7.3% of GDP in 2010 to 4.6% this year.
Presidential elections in Portugal