Tuesday, 25 July 2017
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Anibal Cavaco SilvaAníbal Cavaco Silva, born and bred in the modest Algarve village of Boliqueime, has secured occupancy for the next five year in Lisbon's Belém Palace, official residence of the President of the Republic of Portugal.

Of the two main candidates in Sunday's presidential election, there was never any doubt that voters would go for the centre-right economist rather than his main rival, Manuel Alegre, a celebrated leftist poet. As expected, Cavaco Silva, 71, won emphatically.

Cavaco Silva is well qualified to be Portugal's head of state at this time of extreme financial difficulty.  Ironically, it was failure as a schoolboy living in Boliqueime that seems to have set him on the path to academic achievement and political success.

The President was born in Boliqueime just off the N125 main road, north of Vilamoura and Albufeira, in 1939.  His family dealt in locally harvested dried fruits. His father also ran the local filling station.

The story goes that the young Aníbal did not shine at school. When he failed an exam as a 13-year-old, his grandfather decided the lad needed a shake up. He is said to have “punished” him by forcing him to work the land with an enxada (traditional heavy hoe). This seems to have done the trick because Aníbal went on to become an outstanding student, graduating with a degree in economics and finance in Lisbon in 1964.  He later gained a doctorate in economics in the University of York.

During his subsequent career, he held professorships, senior positions within the Bank of Portugal, served as finance minister and twice as prime minister at the head of the Social Democratic Party.

Former presidents of Portugal have been dictators. Others have been mere figureheads. Cavaco Silva has chosen to use his high office to wield influence while avoiding party polemics and not directly interfering with the running of the country.

During his first term as president, Cavaco Silva has backed the efforts of Socialist Prime Minister José Sócrates to stabilise Portugal's economy without resorting to an EU bailout and all the strings that would entail.

The Social Democratic Party Cavaco Silva once led has become increasingly critical of Sócrates' economic performance. Opposition members of parliament are demanding the prime minister's resignation if Portugal is forced to resort to a bailout.

In theory, the next general election is still two years away, but there are doubts if the government can hang in until then. The president's official powers are limited but one of them is the right to dismiss a prime minister and dissolve parliament if he thinks it necessary.

Cavaco Silva is not without critics, of course. Many Portuguese, especially the young, are disillusioned by his support for the government's austerity measures to tackle the country's budget deficit, thus identifying himself with wage cuts, tax rises and worsening unemployment. Still, it is clear that the majority of Portuguese voters want a confident professional economist to oversee things during the undoubtedly difficult months and years ahead.

This man of humble birth certainly does not lack confidence. He once said in a newspaper interview: “When I make a decision, I never have doubts, and I rarely get it wrong”.