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LISBON: Portugal’s ruling Socialist Party picked former infrastructure minister Pedro Nuno Santos as its leader on Saturday, ahead of a snap election called after his predecessor Antonio Costa resigned as prime minister and party head amid a corruption investigation.

Santos was declared leader of the party after winning 62 percent of the vote, according to near-final results.

Costa, in power since 2015, suddenly quit on November 7 while embroiled in a probe into his administration’s handling of energy-related contracts.

He had been reelected in January 2022, with the Socialists also capturing an absolute majority in parliament – a rare feat among Europe’s left-wing parties.

President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa has called an early election for March 10.

Santos, a 46-year-old economist from the party’s left wing, had himself resigned from the Costa government in December 2022 during an earlier scandal involving a 500,000-euro ($534,000) severance package paid to an executive at state-owned national airline TAP.

Santos had also served as the secretary of state for parliamentary affairs in Costa’s first government and played a pivotal role in enabling the Socialists to come to power in 2015. He was long seen as Costa’s successor.

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In his victory speech on Saturday, Santos promised “to bring stability” to the country, which is facing a cost of living crisis and slowing economy.

“It is a united party that we now want,” he said.

In the party leadership race, Santos went up against current interior minister Jose Luis Carneiro, who represents a more centrist faction.

Costa, who congratulated his successor on Saturday evening, is due to meet with Santos on Sunday to discuss the party’s transition.

Costa’s abrupt resignation came after his chief of staff and infrastructure minister were indicted in an investigation into allegations of corruption and influence peddling in licences for lithium mining and hydrogen production.

In a bid to contain the political crisis and stabilise the economy, the president decided to delay the dissolution of parliament until January after the 2024 budget was set.

Recent opinion polls put the Socialists neck-and-neck with the main opposition party, the centre-right Social Democrats.

However, it is unlikely that any single party will win an outright majority in March, according to polling organisations contacted by the Publico daily.

An October poll by the Aximage institute for CNN Portugal forecast 41 percent of seats would go to left-wing parties and 44 percent to the right.

That could leave the winner beholden to the small, far-right populist party Chega to obtain enough seats to govern.

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