Cablegate: Portugal to Hold Local Elections On October 11

DE RUEHLI #0537/01 2821509
P 091509Z OCT 09



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1. (U) Summary: Portugal will hold local elections October
11 in all 308 municipalities, with the most significant races
in Lisbon and Porto. The race in Lisbon will be closely
contested, with incumbent Socialist (PS) mayor Antonio Costa
likely to be re-elected over Social Democratic (PSD) rival
Pedro Santana Lopes. Social Democrat Rui Rio is favored to
win in Porto. Voter turnout may be relatively low, as these
elections come just two weeks after the September 27 national
elections (reftel) and four months after Euro-parliament
elections. The Social Democrats, who are running in
coalition with other parties in Lisbon and several other
municipalities, hope to retain the majority of the mayoral
posts, while the Socialists seek to win the largest number of
votes to consolidate their September 27 victory. Two weeks
ago PM Socrates led the Socialists to a lackluster victory in
the national elections, which threw the PSD into disarray.
The PSD is likely to have a better showing in these local
elections, retaining its strongholds in the north. End

2. (U) Portugal will hold local elections October 11 for
mayors and municipal assembly deputies in 308 municipalities
nationwide. Voters will also elect local executives and
assembly members in nearly 5,000 districts. An estimated
half a million candidates have registered to run. Unlike the
parliamentary elections, where candidates must be affiliated
with a political party, groups of citizens or independent
candidates may run for local office.

3. (U) The two leading parties have different electoral
objectives: the right-of-center Social Democratic Party
seeks to repeat its 2005 performance by winning the largest
number of mayoral posts, while the left-of-center Socialists
seek to win the most votes to consolidate their victory in
the September 27 national elections. To increase its chance
of success and margin of victory, the PSD is running in
coalition with the Popular Party (CDS/PP) and other smaller
parties in numerous municipalities. The Socialists, on the
other hand, have not formed any alliances. Regardless of the
results, both parties will undoubtedly claim victory, but
much depends on who wins in the capital. Of the 308
municipalities, the most significant and closely watched
races will be in Lisbon and Porto, Portugal's second largest

4. (SBU) Lisbon voters have historically cast their votes for
the left-of-center candidates. As the Socialist Party won a
large majority in Lisbon during the September 27
parliamentary elections, it is likely that incumbent
Socialist mayor Antonio Costa will be re-elected. The polls
show him leading his PSD opponent, 45 to 33 percent.
Considered effective throughout his career, Costa is a
quietly competent mayor unlike his PSD opponent. Costa has
the support of a large percentage of independent voters;
however, he lacks charisma and has been criticized by some
for not doing enough since taking office in 2007.

5. (SBU) Costa's primary opponent, Social Democrat Pedro
Santana Lopes, previously served as prime minister (2004 -
2005) and mayor of Lisbon (2002 - 2004), but lacks support
within his own party. He was appointed prime minister in
2004 but lost credibility when President Sampaio dissolved
Parliament and called for new parliamentary elections just
six months after Santana Lopes took office. Santana Lopes
represents the right and center-right in a coalition of the
PSD with the CDS/PP and two smaller parties. He is a
flamboyant and charismatic figure who enjoys the limelight,
but he lacks gravitas, having never completed any political
term in office, and has many enemies in Parliament.

6. (U) In Porto, the Social Democrats have the advantage.
Polls show PSD incumbent Rui Rio with a 14-point lead over
his Socialist rival. Rui Rio, an economist who is running
for a third term, is generally regarded as effective and
charismatic. A centrist, he voted for decriminalization of
abortion, a referendum initiated by PM Socrates but opposed
by many in the PSD. The Socialists have a relatively weak
candidate in Elisa Ferreira, a current member of the European
Parliament and former cabinet minister. Ferreira has spent
most of her life outside Porto and is seen as having little
interest vested in the municipality and a limited
understanding of its realities.


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7. (SBU) Coming just two weeks after the national
parliamentary elections, the local elections may suffer from
voter fatigue and a lower turnout than the 61 percent in the
September 27 elections. As in years past, local election
results may not reflect parliamentary
election results. In 2005, when the Socialist Party won an
absolute majority in the national parliamentary elections, it
was the Social Democratic Party that won the largest number
of mayoral posts. Given that the PSD is again running in
coalition with the CDS/PP in numerous municipalities, the PSD
will likely receive fewer votes nationally than the
Socialists. It is expected, however, to retain the majority
of the mayoral posts. Regardless of which party claims
overall victory, the results will not reflect any ideological
shift in voter attitudes since the national elections two
weeks ago, but merely the reality that voters tend to elect
to local office candidates they know and trust. Taken
together with the recent parliamentary elections, these local
elections demonstrate that the Social Democrats are weakened
nationally but retain many local strongholds, while the
Socialists have national prominence but, outside of Lisbon,
have significant holes at the local level.

For more reporting from Embassy Lisbon and information about Portugal,
please see our Intelink site: ugal

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