Soares Wins Presidential Election
LISBON, Portugal (AP) _ Veteran Socialist leader Mario Soares won Sunday’s runoff contest to become Portugal’s first elected civilian president in 60 years.
His conservative rival, Diogo Freitas do Amaral who was the top vote getter among four contenders in the first-round election last month, conceded defeat.
With all but 37 of the country’s 4,138 precincts reporting, the official National Election Center gave Soares 51.29 percent of the vote with 3,009,431 votes.
Freitas do Amaral had 48.71 percent with 2,857,200 votes.
″Based on the results now available I recognize that Mario Soares has won,″ Freitas do Amaral told subdued supporters at his Lisbon campaign headquarters less than four hours after the polls closed.
In his first official comments as president-elect heading for a five-year term, Soares told a news conference: ″It is now time to concentrate our energies on the fight to eradicate poverty, ignorance and intolerance.″
Shortly before midnight, Soares and his wife, actress Maria Barroso, appeared on the balcony of his campaign headquarters.
He told thousands of cheering supporters his election represented ″a victory for the ideals of April 25,″ referring to the 1974 revolution that ended a half century of dictatorial rule.
″As victors we must be generous and tolerant,″ Soares shouted to the crowd. ″No one should be afraid of our happiness. I am here to unite the Portuguese, not divide them.″
The winner of the runoff just needed one more vote than his rival. In the Jan. 26 first-round election, none of the candidates won the majority required to avoid the runoff between the two top vote getters.
In the first round, Freitas do Amaral, unopposed on the political right, finished first in a field of four with 46.3 percent of the vote. Soares, competing with two other left-of-center candidates, won 25.4 percent.
Turnout among the 7.6 million registered voters was light in the morning as heavy rains lashed most of the country, but picked up in the afternoon.
The runoff election was Portugal’s fourth nationwide poll in as many months and its 14th since returning to representative government 12 years ago.
Soares will become the first civilian head of state since President Bernardino Machado resigned after a military coup in 1926 that initiated 48 years of rightwing dictatorship.
Successive heads of state were hand-picked military men who owed their position to the late dictator Antonio de Oliveira Salazar and his successor, Marcelo Caetano, whose regime was overthrown in the nearly bloodless military coup in 1974.
The three presidents since all have come from the military, including outgoing President Antonio Ramalho Eanes who was unable to succeed himself under law, having already served two consecutive five-year terms.
Freitas do Amaral, 44, is founder of the Christian Democrats and a former deputy prime minister. He campaigned on the need for a rightist president to reinforce the minority government of conservative Prime Minister Anibal Cavaco Silva and urged streamlining of what he called a top-heavy and inefficient bureaucracy and state industrial sector.
Soares, 61, cast himself as champion of social gains and political freedoms won since 1974, and said he would have no problem serving as president with a rightist minority
The Socialists, the staunchly Moscow-line Communists and members of Eanes’ Democratic Renewal Party can outvote the parliamentry right whenever they agree to join forces.
Until April 1974, the job of president in Portugal was largely ceremonial. But starting with June 1976 presidential elections, held under a new, democratic government system, the president’s powers became more extensive, including the ability to veto legislation and dissolve Parliament.
Since a 1983 constitutional reform, which both Freitas do Amaral and Soares supported, presidential powers have been curbed. The president can still dissolve Parliament, however, after consulting with the Council of State.
The position is usually described as somewhere between the strong U.S. and French presidential systems and the weak West German and Italian models.
In Lisbon, the National Election Center said Sunday voting again was boycotted in the northern towns of Lever, where residents were protesting a boundary dispute with neighboring Crestuma, and Vizela, which is seeking to be officially incorporated as a municipality.
Neither town cast ballots in the parliamentary elections Oct. 6, nationwide local elections Dec. 15 and the first-round presidential poll Jan. 26, and official results have not been affected by the boycotts. Together, the two towns have less than 20,000 votes.
Both candidates issued statements late Saturday condemning the killing of the director-general of Portugal’s prison system by the leftwing terrorist group, The Popular Forces of April 25.
Soares condemned ″with vehemence this dispicable terrorist act,″ calling for ″efforts to redouble security for all, for security is so important in a free society.″
Freitas do Amaral called the assassination ″repugnant,″ and said there can be no ″justification or excuse for terrorism.″
The slain official, Gaspar Castelo Branco, 52, was shot in the head outside his Lisbon home as he returned home from the grocery store.