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Polls: Portugal Votes Conservative

March 17, 2002

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LISBON, Portugal (AP) _ The opposition Social Democratic Party won Sunday’s general election, exit polls said, ending six years of Socialist dominance as voters endorsed conservative reforms by a narrow margin.

The Social Democrats gathered between 37 and 42 percent of the vote compared with 35-40 percent for the Socialists, according to the largest poll by private channel TV Independente.

A poll by public broadcaster Radiotelevisao Portuguesa also gave the Social Democrats a narrow win.

The margins of error were not immediately provided.

The Social Democrats have promised to cut corporate taxes, slash public spending and privatize some state services, including parts of the national health service.

The lame economy and chaotic public services eroded support for the center-left Socialists.

The apparent shift to the right added momentum to a trend in European Union countries after conservative parties last year came to power in Italy and Denmark.

However, the Social Democrats did not appear likely to secure an overall majority in the 230-seat Parliament which would allow it to enact legislation without the support of other parties.

The Socialist Party _ which won the last general, presidential and European ballots _ was on the defensive after it lost heavily in December’s municipal elections and resigned from government. Portugal was not due to go to the polls until next year.

The turnout was about 60 percent of the country’s 8.5 million registered voters, according to the polls.

Other votes went to the Communist Party, the rightist Popular Party, and the communist Left Bloc.

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