Portugal’s Socialists pick young new leader for March election

LISBON (Reuters) – Portugal’s Socialist Party (PS) on Saturday elected Pedro Nuno Santos to lead them in a March 10 snap parliamentary election, following Antonio Costa’s resignation as prime minister and party leader last month amid a corruption investigation.

The 46-year-old former infrastructure minister beat acting Interior Minister Jose Luis Carneiro, who was seen as a more moderate candidate, with 62% of the vote to become the PS secretary-general.

Nuno Santos, who has described himself as “a cobbler’s grandson, son of a businessman”, is from the left wing of the centre-left party and is known for successfully coordinating support in parliament for a previous government with the far-left in 2015-2019.

Costa, in power since 2015, resigned on Nov. 7 over an investigation into alleged illegalities in his government’s handling of green energy projects. President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa has called a snap election for March 10.

Nuno Santos had himself resigned in late 2022 in a scandal around a large severance payout by state-owned airline TAP, which he oversaw as infrastructure minister. Although the scandal dented his popularity, analysts have long seen him as Costa’s successor.

Nuno Santos eulogised Costa in his victory speech, praising the strong economic growth of the past few years, financial stability and a significant reduction of public debt

“We want to build Portugal where nobody is excluded or forgotten,” he said as he advocated a strong welfare state, adding though: “We do not want the state to replace companies, we want companies as partners.”

His main rival in the upcoming general election is Luis Montenegro, 50, of the center-right Social Democratic Party (PSD), who has promised tax cuts in a bid to secure a majority and said he expected the implosion of the majority Socialist administration to play into his hands.

Most opinion polls put the PS neck and neck with the PSD, and many analysts fear a post-election quagmire and a potential strengthening of the role of the populist, anti-establishment party Chega.

(Reporting by Andrei Khalip; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)