Socialist Sampaio Elected as New Portugal President

From Times Wire Services

Socialist Jorge Sampaio was decisively elected Sunday to succeed Mario Soares as Portugal's president, confirming the country's swing to the left.

Final results showed the mild-mannered former Lisbon mayor winning 53.8% of the vote, compared with 46.2% for his conservative rival, former Prime Minister Anibal Cavaco Silva. Turnout was 66.4% of the nearly 9 million eligible voters.

Cavaco Silva admitted defeat without waiting for the count to be completed.

"My first words are to congratulate Jorge Sampaio for his election," he told a news conference. "I pass on my best wishes to you [Sampaio] in the exercise of your duties on behalf of the Portuguese people."

The result was a fresh triumph for the center-left Socialist Party just three months after parliamentary elections thrust the party back into government for the first time in a decade.

The election also marked the first time that the Portuguese have chosen a president from the same party as that of their prime minister since democracy was established in the country after a 1974 revolution, which ended decades of right-wing dictatorship.

For Cavaco Silva, who as prime minister was the master of Portugal's destiny for a decade until the parliamentary elections in October, the election result was a bitter blow.

He had pinned his hopes on his record in government and a call to the Portuguese not to concentrate too much power in the hands of one party.

Although the Portuguese presidency is largely ceremonial, the president can use a veto to delay government legislation. His power to dissolve the parliament also makes him a pivotal figure during any political crisis.

In the end, the country opted for the more paternalistic figure of the 56-year-old Sampaio, an intellectual who said he would remain above the fray of party politics.

Taking a lead from the departing Soares, who carefully nurtured his image as "father of the nation," Sampaio promised to be a president for "all the Portuguese."

Soares will hand over power to his fellow Socialist on March 9.

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