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Monday, 18 March, 2002, 08:08 GMT
Right wins Portugal election
Supporters of the Social Democratic Party celebrate
The Social Democrats have to form a coalition
The two main right-wing opposition parties in Portugal - the Social Democrats and the smaller Popular Party - have won the country's general election, unseating the Socialist government.

The Social Democrat leader, Jose Manuel Durao Barroso - who now becomes prime minister - said that the Portuguese had expressed a desire for change after a period of extreme difficulty.

A new era has begun today. I hope it will bring a richer and fairer country

Jose Manuel Durao Barroso
Mr Barroso has promised to cut corporate taxes, slash public spending and privatise some public services, including parts of the health service.

The election, the second in Portugal in two-and-a-half years, followed the sudden resignation of the Socialist Prime Minister, Antonio Guterres, after his party's heavy defeat in local elections in December.

According to provisional results the Social Democrats (PSD) won 102 seats and the Popular Party (PP) 14, which together would give them a slim majority in the 230-seat parliament.

Most votes were expected to be counted by the end of Monday, although the final result will not be known until 27 March, after postal ballots from voters abroad have been counted.

Those votes, representing four seats, have in the past been split between the two main parties.

Coalition talk

Although the PSD had no pre-electoral agreement with the smaller PP, which made strong gains in this election, they have been allies in the past.

Eduardo Ferro Rodrigues, socialist leader, casts his vote in the rain with his wife Filomena
The socialists have been punished for their inefficiency

In his victory speech, Mr Durao Barroso said he would do all he could to provide the country with a stable, credible government, which observers here took as an indication that he will start formal coalition talks as soon as practicable after being summoned to the presidential palace on Monday.

He said he hoped the result would bring a richer and fairer country.

Portugal is poised to shift rightwards, and with elections due in several other European Union member states, some observers will wonder if this result foreshadows a broader shift to the right, says BBC Lisbon correspondent Alison Roberts.

The new government is expected to take office in mid-April.

Economy uppermost

The socialists, in power since 1995, have been bruised by their failure to push through reforms in the face of vested interests and by failures in their handling of public finances, our correspondent says.

Under their rule, the public administration grew larger while quality of service deteriorated, with overcrowding at hospitals and long queues at the main public offices.

The International Monetary Fund predicts the Portuguese economy will grow by only 0.8% this year - well below the average for the European Union's 15 member-states.

The Socialists' leader, Eduardo Ferro Rodrigues, accused the opposition of frightening voters with "the spectre of unemployment and falling pensions".

Despite a lively campaign, only 62% of Portugal's electorate voted.

Sunday's heavy rain contributed to falling turnout.

The BBC's Alison Roberts in Lisbon
"The underlying reason is the economy"
See also:

17 Mar 02 | Business
Economic test as Portugal votes
30 Jan 02 | Business
EU raps Berlin and Lisbon on budgets
28 Dec 01 | Europe
Portugal set for early elections
17 Dec 01 | Europe
Portugal PM resigns
08 Mar 02 | Country profiles
Country profile: Portugal
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