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Socialists retain power in Portugal elections

LISBON, Portugal – The center-left Socialist Party retained power in Portuguese elections Sunday, despite the country’s highest jobless rate in 20 years.

“We have once more been chosen to govern Portugal,” Prime Minister Jose Socrates, the Socialist leader, said. “This is a clear and extraordinary victory.”

With over 99 percent of votes counted, the incumbent Socialists had 36.5 percent compared with 29 percent for the center-right Social Democratic Party, the main opposition party.

Three smaller parties also secured seats in Parliament. The conservative Popular Party polled 10.5 percent, while the more radical socialist Left Bloc had almost 10 percent, and the Communist/Green coalition almost 8 percent. Eleven fringe parties appeared to win too few votes to earn seats in Parliament. The turnout was 60.5 percent.

Socrates has pledged big-ticket public works projects to stimulate growth amid forecasts that the economy will contract by as much as 4 percent this year. Some 500,000 people – just over 9 percent of the work force – are unemployed.

The Social Democrats proposed fighting the economic crisis by facilitating private investment. They rejected a stimulus package of state investment, saying public works will saddle future generations with debt.

Conceding defeat, Social Democrat leader Manuela Ferreira Leite said her party would continue to oppose the Socialist spending plan in the single-chamber Parliament.

“The Social Democratic Party won’t keep quiet nor will it be intimidated,” she said.

Socrates has blamed Portugal’s economic woes on the global meltdown, and vowed to stick with a modernizing social and economic reform program that has antagonized many, especially trade unions.

The Socialists are ready to spend $7.3 billion on a new Lisbon airport, $4.4 billion on a bullet train link to Spain and $2.5 billion on a road and rail bridge across the River Tagus at Lisbon.