Portugal – Changing electoral politics

In the run up to the legislative and presidential elections the ruling parties PSD and CDS-PP have announced the formation of a pre-electoral coalition and decided to jointly support a presidential candidate. Moreover, a growing number of non-partisans or ‘outsiders’ have officially declared their candidacy for the 2016 presidential election. Both pre-electoral coalitions and large numbers of non-partisan presidential candidates are rare political phenomena in Portugal.

It has been 36 years ago since a pre-electoral coalition was formed in Portugal. In 1979 the PSD and CDS (the former CDS-PP) together with the smaller pro-monarchist party, the PPM, formed the so-called Democratic Alliance (AD) that managed to win a parliamentary majority, namely 128 seats in Portugal’s 250-member Assembly in the December 1979 legislative elections.

The announcement of the pre-electoral centre-right coalition or ‘new AD’ came on 25 April, four days after António Costa, leader of the Socialist Party (PS), presented his party’s electoral programme. The coalition’s fear of losing the legislative election is real. The Eurosondagem poll, published on 15 May gave the Socialists a 4.5 point lead over the newly formed coalition with 38.1 percent to 33.6 per cent. It is important to note that if this neck and neck race persists none of the two will obtain a parliamentary majority, a situation which may call for President Cavaco Silva to take on a powerful role in the government formation process.

The leaders of the ruling parties, PM Pedro Passos Coelho (PSD) and deputy PM Paulo Portas (CDS-PP), also agreed to jointly support a presidential candidate. The coalition will likely select either the former leader of the PSD and Law Professor Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, or the former mayor of the city of Porto, Rui Rio, also a prominent member of the PSD party. President Cavaco Silva is constitutionally prohibited from running for a third term. The coalition has decided to select their candidate after the legislative elections.

The coalition’s presidential candidate will face a large number of non-partisan presidential candidates. It has been predicted that the upcoming presidential election will be the most competitive since the first democratic elections took place in 1976. So far, no fewer than five[1] non-partisan presidents have officially announced their candidacy for the presidency. Yet, the Constitutional Court ultimately determines which candidates are eligible to participate in the presidential election.

António Sampaio da Nóvoa, the former rector of the University of Lisbon, is considered to be the most popular amongst the non-partisan candidates and has the support of former presidents António Ramalho Eanes (Ind.) and Mário Soares (PS). If Sampaio da Nóvoa is elected, presidential politics may change. He recently stated that the role of the president ‘should not be ceremonial’ and pledged to combat political corruption and put an end to austerity.

Parliamentary elections will be held between 14 September and 14 October 2015. Presidential elections are scheduled for January 2016.

[1] Henrique Neto, Castanheira Barros, Paulo Freitas do Amaral, Paulo Morais, António Sampaio da Nóvoa.

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