Social Democrats win in Portugal
Portugal's Social Democrats have unseated the Socialist government in a convincing election victory, according to projections, putting them in charge of a grinding austerity program amid a multibillion bailout that is expected to pitch the country into deep recession.
The center-right Social Democratic Party collected between 38 and 42.5% in the ballot, compared with about 24-29% for the centre-left Socialists, according to an exit poll by broadcaster TVIndependente. State broadcaster RTP's projections were broadly similar.
The Social Democrats had asked for an emphatic endorsement at the ballot box that would give them a strong mandate to enact unpopular fiscal measures and introduce longer-term economic reforms such as making it easier to hire and fire workers - a proposal parties on the left have baulked at.
However, the result would leave the Social Democrats just shy of an absolute majority in the 230-seat Parliament where it will need approval for its policies.
Social Democrat leader Pedro Passos Coelho, probably the country's next prime minister, may invite the smaller, conservative Popular Party, to form a coalition government and bolster his party's parliamentary support. The Popular Party was projected to come third with 11-14%.
Turnout was around 60%, the projections said, in line with recent elections.
As in Ireland, where the governing party lost heavily in an election after taking a bailout, the Socialists who have been in power for the past six years appeared to pay heavily for the country's economic downturn.
The winner faces the formidable task of trying to nurse the debt-wracked country of 10.6 million back to financial health after a decade of negligible growth when it borrowed more than it could afford.