Portuguese Head to Polls after Four Years of Austerity

News ID: 878471 Service: Other Media
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TEHRAN (Tasnim) - Portugal is about to go to the polls with voters set to give their verdict on four years of austerity by either re-electing the center-right coalition that steered the country through a punishing bailout or turning to the socialists who promise to ease painful reforms.

However, neither side is likely to win an absolute majority in the 230-seat parliament following Sunday's election, as reported by AFP.

Polling stations will open at 8am (07:00 GMT), with the first results expected about 12 hours later.

Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho's "Portugal Ahead" coalition, which links his centre-right Social Democratic Party with the conservative Popular Party, has made a surprising comeback in opinion polls, with most putting it ahead despite overseeing harsh cuts.

The coalition, in power since 2011, has 37.5 percent support, against 32.5 percent for the main opposition socialists led by Antonio Costa, a popular former mayor of Lisbon, according to the average of the latest surveys.

"The right has recovered a part of the centre voter electorate and has succeeded in getting out its message that a return to power of the socialists would lead the country to bankruptcy, like in 2011," political analyst Antonio Costa Pinto told the AFP news agency.

Analysts warn Portugal risks a period of political instability just as it seeks to safeguard an economic recovery after emerging from a debt crisis.

"The absence of an absolute majority, along with the lack of a clear direction, could be a negative sign for markets," said Paula Carvalho, chief economist at Portuguese bank BPI.

Major poverty

Coelho, a 51-year-old economist, is campaigning on his record of having navigated the country safely through the debt crisis and to a return to growth last year after three years of recession.

When he came to power in June 2011 Portugal was on the verge of defaulting on its mountain of debt.

His socialist predecessor, Jose Socrates, had just asked for a $88bn bailout from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund, making it the third eurozone country after Ireland and Greece to receive a financial rescue package.

Portugal exited the bailout scheme in May 2014 but only after the government imposed harsh austerity measures and the biggest tax hikes in living memory.

The jobless rate has since fallen to 12 percent from a peak of 17.5 percent at the beginning of 2013.

But the recovery has yet to be felt on the streets. One in five Portuguese continue to live below the poverty line with an income of less than 5,000 euros per year.

Unlike neighbouring Spain or Greece, Portugal has not seen the rise of a protest party strong enough to challenge traditional parties at the polls.

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