Lisbon’s Socialist mayor Antonio Costa, tipped to succeed centre-right Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho, stepped down Thursday (1 April) to fight Portugal’s parliamentary elections this autumn.
“It is time to open a new chapter for the Lisbon town hall as for the country as a whole,” said Costa, who has held the mayor’s post since 2007.
The Socialist Party, seen as favourites to win this year’s elections, last year installed Costa, 53, as its prime ministerial candidate.
No firm date has been set for the legislative polls which must take place in September or October.
According to the latest opinion poll, the Socialists are set to win 38.1%of the vote, ahead of the incumbent centre-right coalition, with 33%.
The Socialist Party won the European elections last May. Gowever the main opposition party has been shaken by a corruption scandal involving José Socrates, Portugal’s Prime Minister between 2005 -11.
The ex-premier has been held in detention since being arrested last November on suspicion of tax evasion, corruption and money laundering.
A lawyer by training, Costa, who served as Socrates’ interior minister, champions an alternative to the current government’s austerity policies, but has been criticised by the ruling coalition for failing to spell out the main planks of the Socialists’ election platform.
In May last year, Portugal exited a three-year, €78-billion bailout programme from the European Union and International Monetary Fund, but the government still has to cut spending to meet budget targets.
Schools, hospitals, courts and state offices across Portugal were hit by a day-long strike on Friday called by civil servants fed up with austerity-linked salary and job cuts.
Costa will be replaced as Lisbon mayor by his first deputy Fernando Medina.
After Greece and Ireland received EU-IMF bailouts to cope with their swollen public debts and deficits, Portugal was the next eurozone country that needed to be rescued, despite efforts to put its public finances in order.
The Iberian country’s €214 billion of debt is the third highest in the euro region, as a percentage of gross domestic product.
Portugal signed up to a "tough but fair" €78 billion international bailout in May 2011, which has driven the country into recession for two years.
In June 2014, Portugal decided to do without the last payment from its international bailout program, after the country's constitutional court rejected a series of austerity measures.