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Portugal's presidential election underway

A Portuguese TV pundit is leading the polls, with some expecting him to break the 50-percent threshold to claim victory in the first round. While the presidency is largely ceremonial, it also holds make-or-break powers.

Portuguese voters on Sunday began casting their ballots for the country's next president - a largely ceremonial office - in an election followed closely observed in Brussels as the country recovers from a bailout program amounting to 78 billion euros ($85 billion).

TV pundit Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa is set to lead the vote, with polls showing he may break the 50-percent mark needed to claim an outright win.

The 67-year-old long-time conservative, known for his active involvement in Portuguese media and politics, has said he will do his best to rule "above the fray."

"He is a consensus candidate and a moderate who takes votes both on the left and on the right. But the voters will have to mobilize for him to be elected in the first round," political analyst Jose Antonio Passos Palmeira told AFP news agency.

Meanwhile, the Sociality Party chose former Health Minister Maria de Belem Roseira as its official candidate. Polls show her behind independent leftist Antonio Sampaio da Novoa, with the possibility of gaining between 8 and 13 percent of the vote.

In October, inconclusive elections led to a minority Socialist government comprising a fragile coalition with far-left parties after the center-right Social Democratic Party failed to win an outright majority.

If none of the 10 candidates vying for the presidency secure a 50 percent victory, the top two candidates will go head-to-head in a runoff scheduled for February 14.

Polls predict Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa may claim an outright victory

Polls predict Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa may claim an outright victory

ls/rc (AFP, dpa)