Antonio Costa's Socialist Party (PS) is a clear favorite to win Portugal's parliamentary elections. The anti-austerity leader has been credited with pulling the country from economic hardship to growth and stability.
Portugal is holding its parliamentary elections on Sunday, with Prime Minister Antonio Costa's ruling Socialists looking set to win.
Polls suggest that Costa and his Socialist Party (PS) will win the most seats but will fail to secure a parliamentary majority.
"Every vote counts and we need a strong PS to guarantee four more years of stability," Costa said Friday on the last day campaigning was allowed.
More than 10.8 million voters registered in Portugal and abroad to vote on the country's constitution, its next legislature and where the new government will come from.
Polling stations are open in mainland Portugal and the islands of Madeira and Azores. Sunday's elections are the 16th time that the Portuguese will be called to vote in legislative elections, with a record number of 20 political movements in the running.
The other main parties are the center-right Social Democrats (PSD) led by Rui Rio, the traditional Christian Democrat party, the People's Party (CDS) led by Assuncao Cristas, the Left Bloc (BE) led by Catarina Martins, and the Unitary Democratic Coalition headed by Jeronimo de Sousa, a political coalition between the Portuguese Communist Party (PCP) and the Greens.
Final opinion polls published Friday revealed 36-39% support for the PS, which has governed Portugal in the past four years with the backing in parliament of two smaller far-left parties. Its closest rival, the PSD, has 25-30% support.
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Social democracy has dominated Portugal's political spectrum in the last four years. Costa's likely reelection bucks the trend of rising far-right populist parties in Europe.
"Antonio Costa is a skilled negotiator. He is very pragmatic and a born politician, who has been a Socialist activist since he was a teenager," Marina Costa Lobo, a University of Lisbon political scientist told the AFP news agency.
The country's pro-austerity right-wing party, the Portugal Ahead coalition between the Social Democratic Party and the People's Party, led by former Prime Minister Passos Coelho, did take the majority of votes in the October 2015 election, but its minority government lasted only 11 days.
Costa toppled the Portugal Ahead coalition with his anti-austerity campaign and a noncoalition alliance with far-left parties including the Left Bloc, the Communist Party and the Greens.
Together they brought Portugal political and economic stability after the country was severely hit by the 2008 financial crisis and received a €78 billion bailout from the European Union (EU) and the International Monetary Fund.
While the EU's rescue package stabilized the country, Costa's anti-austerity fight has come at a price.
The Socialist leader's achievements on anti-austerity were successful due to drastic cuts in public spending, with resulting difficulties in education, health care, transport, and other areas of public policy.
In the last election to the lower house, Costa only managed to secure a minority administration. However, having pulled the country from the depths of the financial crisis, his party will likely emerge strengthened from the vote.
Under Costa's leadership, Portugal's economy grew above the EU average thanks to a tourism boom, and the country's unemployment rate recently reached its lowest level since 2002 at 6.7%.
mvb/ng (AFP, dpa, Lusa)