Portugal’s ruling centre-right coalition has retained power in a general election seen as a referendum on its austerity policies, but near-complete results indicated it has lost its absolute majority in parliament. Prime minister Pedro Passos Coelho’s Portugal Ahead coalition took 38.6% of the vote, according to the partial results, against 32.4% the opposition Socialists of former Lisbon mayor Antonio Costa. Costa, who campaigned on a promise of easing some of the painful reforms imposed on western Europe’s poorest country, was quick to concede defeat but ruled out stepping down as party leader. “The Socialist party did not achieve its stated objectives, and I take full political and personal responsibility,” Costa told supporters in the capital. But he added: “I will not be resigning.”
Sunday’s victory by the centre-right, after four years of swingeing austerity that sent unemployment and emigration soaring, marks a rare case of a bailed-out country re-electing its government. But the coalition between the premier’s Social Democrats and the conservative Popular Party looks set to fall short of the 116 seats needed to control the 230-seat chamber, leaving them outnumbered by the Socialists and MPs from smaller leftist parties. Four seats to be decided by votes from abroad will be decided by October 14.
The Left Bloc, the sister party of Greece’s anti-austerity Syriza, looked on course for its best-ever result of 10.2% of the vote and 19 seats, up from its previous score of eight.
A minority government could pose a big challenge for Portugal, where not a single minority administration has survived a full term since the country returned to democracy in 1974.