At 71, Anibal Cavaco Silva is once again Portugal’s president. A social democrat at heart he has worked hard to cultivate an image of stability. He has also tried to place himself above party politics, arguably a key reason for his latest electoral success.
It was in 2006 that he first became Portugal’s head of state. Almost from the start of that mandate he was forced to work with the socialist government of Prime Minister Jose Socrates. Despite being unlikely bedfellows Cavaco Silva has generally opted for a strategy of cooperation, even if he has blocked several key pieces of legislation.
Cavaco Silva entered politics after the fall of Portugal’s dictatorship in 1974 becoming the country’s minister of finance in 1980, having studied economics in the UK.
It was during the 1980s he experienced a meteoric rise in the Social Democrat party, becoming leader in 1985 before winning, in the same year, parliamentary elections to become prime minister. Two years later he would win an absolute majority in parliament. A first for his party since the revolution. Elected again in 1991, his reign of ten years as Portugal’s premier was the longest ever in the country under democratic rule.
His time as Prime Minister would be marked by low taxes, economic deregulation and Portugal’s entry into the EU. Aided by strong uninterrupted growth, he also launched a series of grand infrastructure projects aimed at modernising the country.
By 1993, however, a Europe wide recession, several corruption scandals in the government and perhaps the strain of the job, led to him not to seek a fourth term.
Three years later, however, Cavaco Silva was back, but this time for the presidency. A move that would see him beaten by Lisbon’s Socialist mayor Jorge Sampaio. Forced to lick his wounds, he decided to quit politics altogether.
But in 2006, he was back again immediately winning the presidency. While Portugal’s economic woes have overshadowed this election, Cavaco Silva has promised a ‘‘dynamic and active’‘ presidency, arguably something the country needs as it struggles to avoid an EU bailout.