HomeEuropeRui Rio wins fight to lead Portugal’s center-right opposition into 2022 elections

Rui Rio wins fight to lead Portugal’s center-right opposition into 2022 elections

Rui Rio, president of Portugal’s main center-right opposition party, defeated a leadership challenge Saturday and will lead the Social Democrats against Prime Minister António Costa in elections in January.

“It’s time to move on, we have a new challenge now: to win the general election on January 30,” said Rio after surviving his third leadership challenge in less than four years. “Today’s victory will only make sense if we can build a better Portugal.”

Rio captured 52.5 percent of the votes against 47.5 percent for Paulo Rangel, a member of the European Parliament, who had demanded a more assertive opposition to Costa’s Socialist government.

“The newly re-elected leader of the PSD (Social Democratic Party) comes out of this stronger for the legislative elections,” Rangel told supporters after acknowledging the defeat.

Rangel launched his leadership bid before a political crisis last month when two far-left parties united with the right to defeat the government’s budget bill, triggering early elections.

After a bruising internal battle where he was accused of weakness and lack of ambition, Rio has two months to unify the party and present an effective challenge to Costa.

PORTUGAL NATIONAL PARLIAMENT ELECTION POLL OF POLLS

For more polling data from across Europe visit POLITICO Poll of Polls.

That won’t be easy. Boosted by an effective response to the COVID-19 pandemic and a rebounding economy, Costa’s Socialist Party (PS) is well ahead in opinion polls.

According to POLITICO’s poll of polls, the PS is on course to score 39 percent compared to the PSD’s 27 percent.

The Social Democrats have lost votes to two upstart anti-establishment parties, the pro-business Liberal Initiative and the far-right Chega.

At the same time, the PSD’s traditional ally, the socially conservative CDS-People’s Party looks to have squabbled itself into electoral irrelevancy.

Still, the center-right has managed to pull off some surprise electoral successes at local level this year.

In September, the PSD captured Lisbon’s city hall when former European Commissioner Carlos Moedas defeated the incumbent Socialist mayor; earlier, the party took control of the regional government in the Azores islands, after striking an agreement with Chega.

Rio has said he won’t repeat such a deal with the far-right at national level.

Instead, he has sought to reaffirm the party’s centrist credentials and expressed openness to enabling a Socialist-led government, if neither of the main parties secures a working majority after January’s vote.

Rio, 64, served as mayor of his home city of Porto from 2002 to 2013.



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