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11 December 2004

Santana Lopes Quits

Portugal PM submits resignation
By Ian Simpson

LISBON (Reuters) - Portugal's prime minister says he and his cabinet have submitted their resignations, a move that came a day after a snap election was called.Centre-right Prime Minister Pedro Santana Lopes said he would head a caretaker administration until a new government was named following February 20 election. "Before this address I informed the president of my and the government's decision, taken in the cabinet meeting just held," Santana Lopes said in a televised address on Saturday. The announcement came after a cabinet meeting at Santana Lopes's official residence. He said he would meet Sampaio on Monday to formalise the resignations.

Santana Lopes's Social Democrats and the rightist Popular Party, the junior partner in the coalition government, are well behind the opposition Socialists in opinion polls. The constitution calls for a prime minister who resigns to remain in office until the president names a new one and he or she takes over. Guilherme da Fonseca, a former Constitutional Court judge, said caretaker status would hamper Santana Lopes's powers. "A caretaker government is a government that is limited, in accordance with the constitution, to practices strictly necessary for the oversight of public business," he told private TSF radio. Sampaio dissolved parliament on Friday and scheduled an election, saying instability in Santana Lopes's government threatened to damage Portugal and its institutions.

Santana Lopes's brief tenure was marked by a minister's resignation, slumping polls, a negative outlook from the Standard & Poor's credit rating agency, and charges of government interference with the media. Santana Lopes, then Lisbon mayor and number two in the Social Democrats, took over as prime minister when Jose Manuel Barroso left Portuguese politics in July to head the European Commission. The Socialists, under telegenic new leader Jose Socrates, are considered to have a good chance of taking power in the February election, which will usher in Portugal's fourth government since late 2001. Polls had been scheduled for 2006.


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