Portugal to pick a new president but govt calls the shots

AP News
Posted: Jan 22, 2016 7:20 AM
Portugal to pick a new president but govt calls the shots

LISBON, Portugal (AP) — A record 10 candidates are running for president of Portugal on Sunday, but voters don't appear to share their enthusiasm for a job that holds no executive power in Western Europe's poorest country.

An unmemorable election campaign and an apparent runaway favorite have combined to bore the electorate.

"Turnout will undoubtedly be lower than usual," said Antonio Costa Pinto of Lisbon University's Institute of Social Sciences.

An alliance of anti-austerity parties is in charge in Portugal after a parliamentary election three months ago produced a Socialist minority government supported by the Communist Party and radical Left Bloc. The president's role is largely ceremonial, though the head of state can be an influential voice.

Polls in recent weeks have consistently indicated that Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, a veteran center-right politician who became a popular television personality, will collect more than 50 percent of the vote.

A poll published Friday in daily Publico suggested Rebelo de Sousa will collect 52 percent of the vote. The poll by Intercampus was conducted Jan. 14-20, with 1,043 people interviewed in person and had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

Rebelo de Sousa says he wants to be a discreet "facilitator" for consensus between the country's political parties.

His two closest rivals — Antonio Sampaio da Novoa, a former university dean, and former Socialist health minister Maria de Belem — would get 17 and 10 percent of the vote, respectively, the poll indicated. Both of them are close to the Socialist government.

If no candidate gets more than 50 percent of the vote, the first- and second-place candidates compete in a runoff on Feb. 14.