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Portugal: Socialists ready for major tasks after landslide

January 31, 2022 GMT
Portuguese Prime Minister and Socialist Party Secretary General Antonio Costa waves to supporters following election results in which Portugal's center-left Socialist Party won a third straight general election, returning it to power, Lisbon, Monday, Jan. 31, 2022. Portuguese voters went to the polls Sunday, two years earlier than scheduled after a political crisis over a blocked spending bill brought down the country's minority Socialist government and triggered a snap election. (AP Photo/Armando Franca)
Portuguese Prime Minister and Socialist Party Secretary General Antonio Costa waves to supporters following election results in which Portugal's center-left Socialist Party won a third straight general election, returning it to power, Lisbon, Monday, Jan. 31, 2022. Portuguese voters went to the polls Sunday, two years earlier than scheduled after a political crisis over a blocked spending bill brought down the country's minority Socialist government and triggered a snap election. (AP Photo/Armando Franca)
Portuguese Prime Minister and Socialist Party Secretary General Antonio Costa waves to supporters following election results in which Portugal's center-left Socialist Party won a third straight general election, returning it to power, Lisbon, Monday, Jan. 31, 2022. Portuguese voters went to the polls Sunday, two years earlier than scheduled after a political crisis over a blocked spending bill brought down the country's minority Socialist government and triggered a snap election. (AP Photo/Armando Franca)
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Portuguese Prime Minister and Socialist Party Secretary General Antonio Costa waves to supporters following election results in which Portugal's center-left Socialist Party won a third straight general election, returning it to power, Lisbon, Monday, Jan. 31, 2022. Portuguese voters went to the polls Sunday, two years earlier than scheduled after a political crisis over a blocked spending bill brought down the country's minority Socialist government and triggered a snap election. (AP Photo/Armando Franca)
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Portuguese Prime Minister and Socialist Party Secretary General Antonio Costa waves to supporters following election results in which Portugal's center-left Socialist Party won a third straight general election, returning it to power, Lisbon, Monday, Jan. 31, 2022. Portuguese voters went to the polls Sunday, two years earlier than scheduled after a political crisis over a blocked spending bill brought down the country's minority Socialist government and triggered a snap election. (AP Photo/Armando Franca)

LISBON, Portugal (AP) — A landslide election victory has opened the door for Portugal’s Socialists to start spending a huge financial windfall from the European Union, though the center-left party faces plenty of challenges.

The Socialists collected 41.7% of the vote and a majority 117 seats in the 230-seat parliament in Sunday’s ballot, far ahead of its nearest rival, the center-right Social Democratic Party, which collected 28% and 71 seats.

That majority allows Socialist leader and likely next prime minister António Costa to scrap his minority government’s previous alliances with the Portuguese Communist Party and Left Bloc.

“Freed from the shackles of the radical left, the Socialists and António Costa can now implement more moderate and Europe-focused solutions,” newspaper Público said in an editorial Monday.

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Portugal is one of only a half-dozen European countries with a center-left government.

Helena Lopes, a 56-year-old arts historian, said the Socialist Party’s parliamentary majority placed a heavy onus on it.

“Today there is a lot of expectation regarding the (government’s) responsibilities for the next four years and for the future of our children and our families,” she said in Lisbon.

The new government’s first challenge is getting the machinery of state to move promptly. Due to official procedures, it could be weeks before the Socialists fully take power, and a new state budget for 2022 is unlikely before April.

Costa has pledged a smaller and more agile Cabinet — “a real task-force for national recovery.”

Resolving Portugal’s deep-rooted economic weaknesses will take longer than the next government’s four-year term.

The country has been falling behind the rest of the 27-nation EU since 2000, when its real annual gross domestic product per capita was 16,230 euros ($18,300) compared with an EU average of 22,460 ($25,330). By 2020, Portugal had edged higher to 17,070 euros ($19,250) while the bloc’s average surged to 26,380 euros ($29,750).

Low wages are a long-standing grievance and have driven large-scale emigration since the 1960s. The average monthly pay in Portugal is around 1,300 euros ($1,466), the national statistics agency says.

Portugal also has ground to make up in developing its digital sector. The EU last year ranked the country in 16th place out of the bloc’s 27 member states in its Digital Economy and Society Index.

The Socialists have a trump card, however: over the next seven years Portugal is due to receive 45 billion euros ($50 billion) in aid as a poorer member of the EU.

The new government got some welcome news Monday, as the statistics agency reported that GDP grew 4.9% last year. That’s the highest annual rate since 1990.

The Socialists have promised to increase the minimum monthly wage, earned by more than 800,000 people, to 900 euros ($1,020) by 2026. It is currently 705 euros ($800).

They also want to “start a national conversation” about working four days a week instead of five.

Susana Salgado, a professor at Lisbon’s Political Sciences Institute, warned that despite its majority the Socialist Party will still have to deliver on its promises.

“Governing stability in the short term may lead to structural instability in the medium term if (the Socialist Party) does not manage to provide the answers that people need,” she said.

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Helena Alves contributed to this report.