The centre-right candidate in Portugal’s presidential election has been boosted by the divisions on the left – and by the parlous state of the country’s economy, which the Socialist government has so far been unable to knock into shape. Some commentators suggest Anibal Cavaco Silva might even win outright in the first round. He is a staunch advocate of the free market and argues that liberalisation, tax cuts and deregulation will give the economy the boost it needs. Cavaco Silva has made much of his record as prime minister, a post he held three times. In the 1980’s he oversaw steady economic growth, helped by the arrival of EU funds.
“I tell you, next Sunday is a chance to turn your dreams of a better Portugal into reality,” he told supporters earlier in the campaign. On the left, there are hopes that a second round would dent Cavaco Silva’s lead. Mario Soares, the founding father of modern Portuguese democracy, is aiming to make a comeback. “This vote is hugely important – we must stop Cavaco Silva, regain ground and win the second round in the elections,” he said at a rally. But Soares’s campaign is not looking too good. He failed to secure the backing of the Socialists, who plumped for the poet and member of parliament Manuel Alegre. Opinion polls suggest he has the best chance against Cavaco Silva. Analysts say floating voters and abstentions could be the decisive factors. Some have projected a turnout of just 60 percent. The Portuguese may be suffering from election overload, this being the third time they have been called to the ballot box in a year. “I’m not sure any of the candidates will really be able to change much, the issues are so difficult, but that isn’t a reason not to take part,” said one woman. The winner will have some tricky topics to handle – the budget deficit, inflation, growth and jobs.