Portugal's main ruling party gains, partner punished for crisis: poll

LISBON Fri Aug 2, 2013 7:28am EDT

Portugal's Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho (C) speaks near Deputy Prime Minister Paulo Portas (L) and Finance Minister Maria Luis Albuquerque during the debate to vote on a motion of confidence in Lisbon July 30, 2013. REUTERS/Rafael Marchante

Portugal's Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho (C) speaks near Deputy Prime Minister Paulo Portas (L) and Finance Minister Maria Luis Albuquerque during the debate to vote on a motion of confidence in Lisbon July 30, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Rafael Marchante

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LISBON (Reuters) - The junior partner in Portugal's coalition government has been punished in an opinion poll for provoking a political crisis last month while the main ruling party has gained in popularity despite its austerity drive.

Junior partner CDS-PP won more clout in the center-right coalition last month after threatening to pull out, a move that could have forced a snap election and made investors question Portugal's commitment to resolving its debt problems.

In the survey by the Lisbon Catholic University's polling unit published on Friday, backing for the CDS-PP fell to just 3 percent, from 5 percent in the unit's last poll in March and almost 12 percent in the 2011 election.

But support for Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho's Social Democrats rose to 32 percent from 28 percent, reversing a long period of declines in various polls, and his was the only approval rating among main political leaders that did not fall.

The main opposition Socialists also gained ground, to 35 percent support from 31 percent in March.

Since the crisis, Passos Coelho has ruled out any backtracking on Lisbon's EU/IMF bailout terms, even though the rightist CDS-PP had objected to some of the measures to overhaul government finances.

The economy is in its worst recession since the 1970s and more budget cuts are planned to meet the goals agreed with the European Union and International Monetary Fund.

But it was the approval rating of CDS-PP leader Paulo Portas, who triggered the crisis and was in the end promoted to deputy prime minister, that slumped the most - to 31 percent from 43 percent.

The two left-wing groups in parliament, the Communist-Greens alliance and the Left Bloc, dropped by one percentage point each to 11 percent and 7 percent respectively. These parties advocate a complete bailout renegotiation and a debt write-off.

The poll showed 53 percent of 1,096 people surveyed on July 27-29 did not consider the opposition as a valid alternative, even though as many as 77 percent disapproved of the government.

A new general election is not due for another two years, but there will be local elections on September 29, which will test the coalition's grip on power.

(Reporting By Andrei Khalip; Editing by Ruth Pitchford)

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