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Portugal: New Leader of Socialist Party

Main opposition party elects Socrates, the Action Man

Nothing philosophical about this practical Socrates, the civil engineer, who won the internal election in the Portuguese Socialist Party in the first round with a categorical 80% of the vote, defeating former Mayor of Lisbon Joao Soares and his fellow Member of Parliament, Manuel Alegre.

Jose Socrates Carvalho Pinto de Sousa is from the right wing of the Socialist Party, which expressed its wishes clearly and categorically, giving him around 80% of the vote, against 16% for Manuel Alegre and 4% for Joao Soares.

Having joined, and left, the Young Social Democrats in quick succession, he joined the Socialist Party in 1981, at 24 years of age. Born in north-eastern Portugal on 6th September 1957, Jose Socrates spent his youth in Covilha in central Portugal, where he entered the party in the lists of the Federal District of Castelo Branco in 1983 and four years later, was elected a Member of Parliament, where he worked in opposition to the Social Democratic government led by Anibal Cavaco Silva.

With the return of the Socialists to power in 1995 under Antonio Guterres, Socrates began his rise in the party and in politics, first as Secretary of State in the Environment Ministry, then as Deputy Minister to the Prime Minister and finally, as Minister of the Environment.

Organised and determined, Jose Socrates fulfilled his objectives, setting up an ambitious network of sanitary landfills, completing the Project within the time limit, which was reduced by two years due to the unexpected resignation of Antonio Guterres and the subsequent change of government.
Socrates also launched the POLIS programme (to improve and rehabilitate cities) and was a fundamental element in the organization of the EURO 2004 football championship.

With the election of Socrates as leader, the Socialist Party opens the door for a possible scenario of Antonio Vitorino or Antonio Guterres as President with Socrates as Prime Minister.

Once again, the Socialist Party needed to perform a detailed interior examination and rose to the task, demonstrating that it has great political depth in human terms and the capacity to perform processes of internal debate which go down to grass roots level and which revitalise the party.

Jose Socrates, Manuel Alegre and Joao Soares provided the Socialist Party with alternatives ranging from the left to the right of the party.

Promising to take the Socialist Party into government at the next election two years hence, the best ally of Jose Socrates at this moment is the coalition government itself (the centre-right Social Democrats and the conservative Popular Party), which stubbornly insists on demonstrating an incompetence hitherto unseen in Portugal or anywhere else in the European
Union, the legacy of Jose Barroso, now President of the European Commission, arguably the worst Prime Minister in Portuguese history.

A classic example of this incompetence is the incapacity to place 50.000 teachers in Portuguese schools at the beginning of the school year in September, after blaming the software (which had already been delivered to the Ministry of education in December 2003).

With the defeated candidates in the Socialist Party closing ranks behind Socrates, the task should be relatively simple in the short term, taking advantage of the absence of governing capacity in the PSD/PP alliance.

In the medium term however, Portugal's new Prime Minister Pedro Santana Lopes (indicated by President Sampaio but not elected) will have the time before the next election to leave his mark on his party and on the country, by which time the economic setting may be more favourable to him. Then it
will be a test between Santana and Socrates, two great communicators, to take their message to the people.

Today, the opinion polls give a clear advantage to the Socialists, with 46.4% against 34.5% for the Social Democrats. For tomorrow, the stage is set for a clash between two right-wing formations, leaving the left wide open to be disputed between two formations, the Portuguese Communist Party/Greens (CDU) and the Left Block (Bloco de Esquerda), the dynamic new political formation challenging the PCP at the same time as it challenges the right.