Portugal could get its first Indian-origin prime minister if Antonio Costa wins Sunday’s general election even though the latest opinion polls suggest the ruling coalition led by PM Pedro Passos Coelho is marginally ahead of Costa’s Socialist Party.
But opinion polls haven’t had a particularly good summer in Europe – remember how British voters proved them so wrong in May – and if Costa wins he’ll be the latest entrant in a club of global Indians to reach top political positions in countries from Fiji to New Zealand to Guyana to Mauritius to Malaysia to Singapore to South Africa and beyond.
Until recently, Costa, the popular former mayor of Lisbon, was coasting in the ratings, but the latest polls in Lisbon put the ruling coalition marginally ahead.
Contesting the election together, the two coalition parties – Social Democratic Party and Social Democratic Centre – polled 38% while Costa’s party finished a close second at 36%.
Known as ‘Babush’ (the Konkani word for boy), Costa was born in Lisbon in 1961. He is the son of prominent novelist Orlando da Costa, who wrote essays on Rabindranath Tagore. His father was born in Mozambique, but spent most of his youth in Goa, then under Portuguese rule.
Antonio Costa’s grandfather Luis Afonso Maria da Costa who was born and brought up in Goa was a descendant of prominent Hindu families who converted to Christianity during the centuries of Portuguese rule in Goa. Portugal was the first western country to colonise parts of India in the early sixteenth century and the last to leave, on 19 December 1961.
Portugal is the third Eurozone country (after Ireland and Greece) that recently went through a financial bailout from the International Monetary Fund, European Commission and European Central Bank.
Since the ruling coalition had to impose tough austerity measures as part of the bailout package, its 38% rating evoked some surprise in Lisbon, particularly due to the unpopularity of the measures.
Costa promised to ease the austerity measures and won new support with his ideas for economic change and his slogan ‘Mobilizar Portugal’ (Mobilise Portugal). High unemployment, falling living standards and large-scale emigration are major election issues in the country.