Portugal's Socialists focus on economy in re-election bid

LISBON, Portugal (AP) — Portugal's ruling Socialist Party hopes an economic recovery during its four years of governing will persuade voters in an upcoming general election to return the party to power.

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An official two-week campaign period opened Sunday for the Oct. 6 election in which voters will choose members of the next Portuguese parliament. The party with the most seats in the 230-seat Republican Assembly typically is asked to form a new government and holds the prime minister's office.

Recent polls have indicated the center-left Socialists have a strong lead over their traditional rivals, the center-right Social Democrats. Portugal has not seen a recent surge of populist parties like some other European countries.

The Socialists came to power in 2015, four years after Portugal needed a 78 billion-euro ($86 billion) bailout to avoid bankruptcy. At the time, the national budget deficit surpassed 11%, far above the 3% ceiling for countries that use the euro as their main currency.

The 2011 crisis pitched the country's economy into a downward spiral and three years of recession when the Social Democrats led the government. Economic growth has since climbed under the Socialists, from 0.19% in 2014 to 2.1% in 2018, while unemployment fell by half.

The current government has also reduced the budget deficit to under 1%.

"The lack of confidence people had in the Portuguese economy is a thing of the past," incumbent Prime Minister Antonio Costa said last week.

The Socialist government's opponents note that income taxes for all except the lowest earners remain at record levels. The government also cut spending, which has affected some public services; for example, waiting times for patients in the national health service to receive care have soared.

Portugal's 10.8 million voters can pick from 21 parties, though the Socialists and the Social Democrats are the main ones. The two sometimes form coalition governments with smaller parties as they take turns coming in and out of power.

The Left Bloc; a Portuguese Communist Party alliance with the Green Party; the Christian Democratic Party; and the People-Animals-Nature Party also hold seats in the current parliament.