Cablegate: Portuguese Opposition Seeks New Leader

DE RUEHLI #1012 1170842
R 260842Z APR 08

C O N F I D E N T I A L LISBON 001012



E.O. 12958: DECL: 10/10/2016


1. (C) Summary. In the race to lead the major center-right
party, the able and unifying Manuela Ferreira Leite faces the
polarizing but canny Pedro Santana Lopes. Santana Lopes, a
former party leader and Prime Minister, has a significant
faction behind him, but his widely disparaged government
makes many party faithful wish to look elsewhere. Ferreira
Leite's broad appeal, both in the party and with the overall
electorate, makes her the legitimate favorite. End summary.

2. (C) After six months on the job, leader of the
center-right Social Democratic Party (PSD) Luis Filipe
Menezes resigned his position April 17. Menezes was never
able to repair the internal party divisions resulting from
his own successful 2007 challenge to former leader Luis
Marques Mendes, nor was he able to demonstrate a viable
challenge to the Socialist Party government led by Prime
Minister Jose Socrates.

3. (U) Candidacies to replace him have been muddled by
conflicted loyalties and overlapping support factions within
the party. Party number two Rui Rio, Mayor of Porto, refused
to present a candidacy which cleared the way for Manuela
Ferreira Leite, a former Minister of Education and of Finance
and a technocrat with broad appeal. She is a protege of
President Cavaco Silva, who is Portugal's most popular
politician and she is broadly respected for her intellect and

4. (C) One of Ferreira Leite's strengths is that she had
refused to serve in the short-lived and widely disparaged
government of Pedro Santana Lopes in 2004-5. Santana Lopes
himself, however, is expected to declare his candidacy for
the May election in the coming days. Santana Lopes is
everything Ferreira Leite is not: a life-long politician,
aggressive and confrontational. Also, as a former leader and
Prime Minister, Santana Lopes has a grip on a strong faction
within the party, despite having led the PSD to its
worst-ever defeat in 2005. Santana Lopes' political career,
written off by many, was revived recently when Menezes named
him leader of the PSD bloc in the National Assembly.
Ironically, Menezes did so in an attempt to smooth over
internal party divisions.

5. (C) There are three other declared candidates, including a
parliamentarian and former youth leader running on a platform
of "change", the deputy leader of the PSD parliamentary bloc,
and a successful entrepreneur, although none of the three are
considered viable candidates. Party insiders tell us the
former youth leader is hoping to raise his profile, while
both he and the deputy parliamentary leader harbor hope to
emerge as a compromise candidate, should Ferreira Leite and
Santana Lopes battle to a standstill. The entrepreneur, who
cheerfully admits he might not gather enough signatures in
time to be an official candidate, hopes to keep debate
focused on basic center-right party principles rather than
political posturing or personal attacks. Nonetheless, he too
hopes to be a compromise candidate, given his extensive
experience in business, government, and academia.

6. (U) In addition to Rui Rio, several other major party
figures chose not to present candidacies. Menezes allegedly
implored Madeiran President Alberto Joao Jardim to stand, but
Jardim refused and endorsed Santana Lopes. Many observers
viewed former Minister of Justice Jose Pedro Aguiar Branco as
a serious candidate, but he refused to stand because he
favors Ferreira Leite. Neither Marques Mendes nor Menezes is
challenging for the leadership, although some believe that
Menezes might still return to the fight.

7. (C) It is essentially a choice between the able and
unifying Ferreira Leite or the polarizing but canny Santana
Lopes. Neither is charismatic, but that is not seen as a
particular hindrance in Portuguese politics. As leader of
the PSD bench, Santana Lopes faces Prime Minister Socrates on
a daily basis, but has made no noticeable headway against
him. Ferreira Leite would be a much more formidable PSD
leader in the 2009 general elections due to the broad respect
she commands across the electorate, but she will need to
navigate the party leadership election without drawing too
much blood to have that chance. Santana Lopes is tainted
with the stench of defeat, so we expect the party to turn to
Ferreira Leite. Whoever wins will have the challenge of
turning the PSD into a credible alternative to the PS and
Prime Minister Socrates, who remains the least unpopular of
major party leaders.

© Scoop Media

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