LISBON (Reuters) - The leaders of the two parties in Portugal’s center-right ruling coalition agreed on Saturday to come up with a single list of candidates in an autumn general election to take on the opposition Socialists, who lead in opinion polls.
In the previous election in 2011, after the collapse of the Socialist government and Portugal’s request for an international bailout to rescue it from a debt crisis, the Social Democrats and the rightist CDS-PP ran on separate tickets and forged a post-election alliance to secure parliament majority.
The vote is due in September or October.
“It’s an alliance that is revitalizing Portugal,” Social Democrat Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho said. Standing alongside him, Paulo Portas, the leader of the CDS-PP, expressed belief that “jointly with independents we can win the majority and form a stable government that Portugal needs to advance”.
But the announcement, made on the anniversary of Portugal’s 1974 leftist Carnation Revolution that overthrew the fascist regime installed by dictator Antonio Salazar, was preceded by harsh criticism of the government by left-wing parties for austerity policies they say have impoverished the nation.
Portugal exited the EU/IMF bailout last year with the economy growing again after a three-year recession. But austerity has hit the coalition’s popularity: the center-left Socialists are far ahead in terms of voting intentions, though polls put them short of a parliamentary majority.
When combined, the coalition parties run almost neck-and-neck with the Socialists, within the margin of error in the latest opinion survey for April by Eurosondagem pollsters. It put the Socialist Party at 37.5 percent, the Social Democrats at 26.7 percent and CDS-PP at 8 percent.
Several surveys have shown the coalition could win more votes as a united front than as two separate parties. It almost crumbled in mid-2013, when Portas threatened to quit the government, but the parties settled their differences with his clout reinforced.
The Socialists pledged earlier this week to keep cutting budget deficits in line with Lisbon’s European commitments if they win, but also to turn the page on austerity with proposals to boost incomes, hiring and growth.
Reporting by Andrei Khalip; Editing by Mark Trevelyan