PM's plodding style in step with tough times

LISBON • With his dapper suits and baritone voice, Portugal Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho could give former Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi a run for his money on a concert bill of political crooners.

But for most of his four years at the helm of western Europe's poorest country, Mr Passos Coelho has had precious little to sing about. He stuck to the letter of his country's punishing bailout deal even though he knew it could be political suicide.

"If I have to one day lose an election to save the country, so what," he told his centre-right Social Democrats a year after taking power in 2012.

While even his greatest fans would admit that Mr Passos Coelho is not exactly charismatic, his determined, plodding style seemed in step with straitened times.

For him, freeing Portugal from the bonds of its creditors became a patriotic duty. Tough public spending cuts caused huge anger and suffering, with the opposition accusing him of going even further than Portugal's creditors demanded.

The backlash took its toll on the youthful 51-year-old. He needed his famed "Olympian calm" to resist massive anti-austerity demonstrations which threatened to unseat him in September 2012, forcing him to backtrack on a measure to lower social charges for employers while hiking them for workers.

Unemployment may have fallen from a record 17.5 per cent two years ago, but many analysts say it is because Portugal has exported the problem. Emigration is at a 50-year high.

Mr Passos Coelho grew up in colonial Angola, where his father was a doctor, and now lives in a modest apartment in an unfashionable Lisbon suburb. Twice married - once to singer Fatima Padinha, with whom he had two children - he is the father of three daughters.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 06, 2015, with the headline 'PM's plodding style in step with tough times'. Print Edition | Subscribe