Portugal votes in test for austerity policies

Portugal voted on Sunday in an election seen as a test of four years of austerity, with the centre- right coalition that pushed through the punishing bailout seen as the favourite - but unlikely to win a clear mandate.

Lisbon: Portugal voted on Sunday in an election seen as a test of four years of austerity, with the centre- right coalition that pushed through the punishing bailout seen as the favourite - but unlikely to win a clear mandate.

Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho's "Portugal Ahead" coalition - joining his centre-right Social Democratic Party with the conservative Popular Party - has made a surprising comeback, with polls putting it ahead despite the harsh cuts its has enacted.

"We have had very tough times in past four years, with a lot of sacrifices. I am confident in the work I have done," Passos Coelho told journalists after voting in a Lisbon suburb.

The coalition, in power since 2011, had 37.5 percent support against 32.5 percent for the main opposition Socialists led by Antonio Costa, a popular former mayor of Lisbon, in an average of the latest surveys.

The Socialists have vowed to ease the painful reforms they claim went further than its creditors demanded, but neither side is likely to win an absolute majority in the 230-seat parliament.

"The Portuguese want a change of government and policies, and open a new cycle of hope," Costa said after casting his ballot.

But many believe the Socialists have lost the propaganda battle. "The right has succeeded in getting across the message that returning the Socialists would lead the country to bankruptcy," political scientist Antonio Costa Pinto told AFP.

Other analysts warned that if there is no clear winner Portugal risks a period of instability that could endanger its fragile recovery.

With apathy gripping many voters, pollsters predict the numbers staying at home may even surpass the record 42 percent recorded in the last election.

Only one in five had voted by the middle of the day.

"Nothing will change anyway, austerity will continue," said Manuel Augusto, 75, who said he voted for the Socialists.

Some among the more than 9.6 million electorate were more optimistic.

"I voted for those in power. Today, the country is doing a bit better," said Domingos Birra, a 71-year-old pensioner.

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