Mon, Jul 19, 2004 - Page 6 News List

Lisbon mayor takes oath as prime minister


Portugal's new prime minister, Pedro Santana Lopes, left, talks with his predecessor in the job, Jose Maria Durao Barroso, after being sworn in on Saturday in Lisbon.


Portugal's new center-right government, led by former Lisbon mayor Pedro Santana Lopes, was sworn in on Saturday after his predecessor resigned to head the European Commission.

Santana Lopes vowed to maintain the main policies of outgoing premier Jose Manuel Durao Barroso, including his public deficit reduction measures.

But the new prime minister also indicated he would pay closer attention to improving the well-being of Portugal's poor, who unions and leftist parties argue have borne the brunt of recent cuts in government spending.

"We will respect previous commitments, changing what needs to be changed," he said in a televised speech during the swearing-in ceremony overseen by President Jorge Sampaio.

"I am not here to look after the powerful, but to look after those who have less and are in the greatest need," Santana Lopes said.

Santana Lopes, a populist who is seen as further right than Barroso, was elected head of the Social Democrats by the party's national council early last week, while he was still mayor of the Portuguese capital.

After a week of consultations with leading figures, including former prime ministers and top business leaders, Sampaio on July 9 decided to ask the party to form a new government rather than call for early elections.

Santana Lopes' Cabinet includes 19 ministers, two more than that of his predecessor. The previous regime slashed government spending after coming to power in April 2002 to ensure that Portugal's public deficit met limits imposed on nations that adopted the euro currency.

Analysts said the new Cabinet strengthened the position of the right-wing junior partners in the governing coalition as it grants the Popular Party four posts instead of the previous three, including the powerful defense and finance minister positions.

Only six of Santana Lopes' ministers are holdovers from Barroso's government, which had trailed the opposition Socialists in opinion polls.

A number of key members of the previous government, including finance minister Manuela Ferreira Leite and foreign minister Teresa Gouveia, refused to take part in a Santana Lopes government reportedly because of his populist style.

Left opposition parties had urged the president, a socialist, to call fresh elections two years ahead of schedule, arguing that a government formed by Santana Lopes would lack legitimacy.

The leader of the Socialist Party, Eduardo Ferro Rodrigues, resigned within minutes of Sampaio's announcement that he had ruled out early elections.

During the swearing-in ceremony Sampaio called on Santana Lopes to resist the temptation to adopt voter-friendly policies which would boost government spending ahead of municipal elections expected next year and legislative elections in 2006.

"There is no margin for additional programs that increase spending, nor for reductions in taxes which are not made up for by equivalent spending cuts," Sampaio said.

"The country is in no condition to support any electoral drift (from current policies)."

Portugal is struggling to meet the terms of the EU's Stability and Growth Pact, which requires nations that adopted the euro to keep their public deficits under 3 percent of GDP.

Portugal was the first EU member to breach the pact, running a deficit of 4.4 percent in 2001, but it subsequently met the pact's terms through a mix of asset sales, increased efforts to combat tax evasion, higher sales taxes and lower government spending.

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