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Portugal leader sees off rivals

Portugal has elected its conservative president to a second term in a landslide victory, delivering a harsh political setback to the minority Socialist government struggling to contain an acute economic crisis.

Anibal Cavaco Silva, supported by the main opposition Social Democratic Party, collected 53% of the vote compared with 20% for second-placed Socialist Party candidate Manuel Alegre, official figures showed with more than 99% of districts returning. Four other candidates picked up the remaining votes.

The government risked a backlash by enacting deeply unpopular austerity measures amid fears that the financial crisis spells economic disaster for Portugal.

The president possesses the power - known as his "atomic bomb" - to call a general election if he feels the government is on the wrong path.

The emphatic win for Mr Cavaco Silva added to political pressure on the embattled centre-left government as prime minister Jose Socrates scrambles to restore international confidence in Portugal's ailing economy.

Portugal's political and economic fortunes are important for the rest of Europe because its government's collapse would add fresh momentum to the continent's debt crisis. Many analysts predict Portugal's economic woes will sooner or later force it to accept a bailout like the ones provided to Greece and Ireland last year.

The government does not face a general election until 2013. Although the president can dissolve parliament and call an early election, such an extreme measure is uncommon.

A key role of the head of state, which Mr Cavaco Silva has said he will respect, is to ensure political stability, though presidents serving their second - and, by law, final - term are usually more outspoken.

Portugal "is going through great difficulties", Mr Cavaco Silva said, adding that he would seek to keep the country on an even keel, "but without surrendering any of the powers conferred on me by the constitution".

"I will continue to speak the truth about the country's true circumstances," he said.


From Belfast Telegraph