Portugal is voting in its “most important” election since the April 1975 poll which consolidated the country’s return to democracy. Those were the words of EU commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso as he arrived at a polling station in Lisbon.
At 20 percent, turnout so far is slightly down on 2009. Polls give the centre-right Social Democat leader Pedro Passos Coelho 37 percent of the vote, compared to 31 percent for Jose Socrates. But if this is borne out, then the Social Democrats will need to aim for a coalition, most likely with the small, centre-right CDS.
Socrates has been caretaker Prime Minister since he resigned in March, halfway through his second term.
His austerity measures were voted down and the government resigned. Portugal was forced to ask for a 78 billion euro EU-IMF bailout.
Portugal is struggling through a period of profound political and financial turmoil. Unemployment is the highest its been for three decades. There are warnings of tax rises and harsh spending cuts to come.
What is clear ahead of the vote is that whoever wins the election faces the daunting task of restoring the country’s economic health and encouraging growth.