Portugal heads to polls in presidential ballot

 24 Jan 2016 - 7:47

Portugal heads to polls in presidential ballot
The overwhelming favourite for the next head of state is a TV pundit, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, who comes into the race with a popularity built on decades in the public eye (AFP Photo/Miguel Riopa)

Lisbon: Portuguese voters go to the polls on Sunday to choose their president, in an election being closely watched in Brussels as the country recovers from a 78-billion-euro ($85-billion) bailout.

Although the post is largely ceremonial, the president has make-or-break power over the nation's fragile ruling alliance and the power to dissolve parliament in the event of a crisis.

Since inconclusive elections in October, Portugal's minority Socialist government has been relying on a delicate coalition with the extreme-left to run the country of 10.4 million people.

The overwhelming favourite for the next head of state is a TV pundit, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa.

Known as "professor Marcelo" to his fans, he comes into the race with a popularity that has been built thanks to decades in the public eye.

The 67-year-old law professor has been involved in Portuguese politics and media since his youth, co-founding a weekly newspaper in his 20s and helping to establish the centre-right Social Democratic Party.

Starting in the early 2000s he made his debut as a political analyst on TV, delivering clever commentary to a viewership that quickly grew.

"People love Marcelo because he is entertaining," said Rebelo de Sousa biographer Vitor Matos.

His popularity is widely expected to help him break the 50-percent mark for an outright win in Sunday's voting. If none of the 10 candidates breaches this threshold, a run-off will be held on February 14.

AFP