Reacting to four months of political and administrative turmoil for the conservative government, Portuguese President Jorge Sam-paio decided to dissolve parliament and hold a new election.
Prime Minister Pedro Santana Lopes -- who took over when Jose Manuel Barroso resigned to take up the top job with the EU -- announced Sampaio's decision on Tuesday. An election, previously scheduled for 2006, is now likely in February.
Recent opinion polls have put the main opposition Socialist Party far ahead of the Social Democratic Party which heads a coalition government with the Popular Party.
Among other measures, the Socialists have opposed the government's backing for US policy in Iraq where Portugal has about 120 police. If they won the election, the Socialists likely would withdraw that contingent.
The move came at a difficult time for Portugal which is struggling to find a way out of an economic recession that was the worst in the EU last year as the economy contracted by 1.3 percent.
The president's decision came after weeks of feuding within the Cabinet, public gaffes and organizational foul-ups which had beset Santana Lopes' administration since it took office, causing political unrest.
Sampaio, a Socialist, had wanted to avoid political instability but Portugal could get its third prime minister in eight months if Santana Lopes is not returned in the election.
A Sampaio spokesman, Joao Gabriel, told the national news agency Lusa the president's decision was based on "an overall political analysis" of the situation and not any single incident or policy.
Sampaio concluded the government was no longer able to "mobilize Portugal and the Portuguese in a coherent, disciplined and stable manner," Lusa reported.
Santana Lopes was vice president of the Social Democratic Party when Barroso left to become president of the European Commission. The Social Democrats won the 2002 election.
Sampaio rejected appeals from opposition parties for a general election when Barroso quit and allowed the Social Democrats to appoint Santana Lopes who took office in July.
However, Santana Lopes' term in office has been riddled with problems and Sampaio reportedly was angered by the prime minister's clumsy handling of state issues.
The school year was delayed by weeks because the Education Ministry was late assigning teachers to schools.
The Finance Minister Antonio Bagao Felix publicly disagreed with Santana Lopes over tax cuts.
The government has also locked horns with the media for allegedly trying to muzzle its critics at newspapers and TV networks.