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Portugal chooses president amid surge in virus cases

Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa is regarded as the clear front-runner among seven candidates.

Image: PA

PORTUGAL’S PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION is ongoing today with the moderate incumbent candidate strongly favoured to earn a second five-year term as a devastating Covid-19 surge grips the country.

The head of state in Portugal has no legislative powers, which lie with parliament and the government, but is an influential voice in the running of the country.

Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, 72, is regarded as the clear front-runner among seven candidates. He is an affable, approachable law professor and former television personality who, as president, has consistently had an approval rating of 60% or more.

To win, a candidate must capture more than 50% of the vote. But a severe surge in coronavirus infections in recent days could keep turnout low and perhaps lead to a run-off between the two top candidates, which would take place on 14 February.

Portugal has increased polling stations and allowed for early voting to reduce crowding on election day.

Portugal has the world’s highest rates of new daily infections and deaths, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University, and the public health system is under huge strain.

With the country in lockdown, the election campaign featured none of the usual flag-waving rallies or other large public events, though restrictions on movement were lifted for polling day. Voters were asked to take their own pen and disinfectant to polling stations.

Rebelo de Sousa, a former leader of the centre-right Social Democratic Party, has worked closely with the centre-left minority Socialist government, supporting its pandemic efforts. He also has endeared himself to the Portuguese with his easy-going style.

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Photographs taken by passers-by of him in public places, such as one last year of him standing in line at a supermarket wearing trainers and shorts, routinely go viral.

Portugal has 10.8 million registered voters, some 1.5 million of them living abroad.

Every Portuguese president since 1976, when universal suffrage was introduced following the departure of a dictatorship, has been returned for a second term. No woman or member of an ethnic minority has ever held the post.

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