Lisbon, Jun 6 : Portugal's Social Democrats unseated the Socialist government in an emphatic election victory on Sunday, giving the centre-right party a strong mandate to enact a grinding austerity program demanded in return for a 78 billion euro (114 billion US dollar) international bailout.
Party leader Pedro Passos Coelho told supporters that Portugal had a difficult road ahead but he was confident that the country could get back on its feet.
"Portugal is living an extraordinary circumstance, we all know that the great need for change that the country demonstrated today is not a need to look back and set the score with the past, it is an unmistakable will to open a window of hope towards the future," he said at a news conference shortly after early results were returned.
Though the severe debt-reduction measures are expected to pitch the country into deep recession and bring sharply lower living standards in what already is one of western Europe's poorest countries, parties that support the effort to restore fiscal health collected around 80 percent of the vote.
That outcome is reassuring for European leaders keen to draw a line under the continent's debt crisis which they have battled to vanquish for more than a year, especially as Greece's financial woes continue to worry investors.
"I hope that the new step that we are beginning now could be the first step towards a new hope for Portugal, to have a new credibility outside Portugal and to restore confidence in the markets in Portugal," Passos Coelho said.
The Social Democratic Party elected 105 lawmakers in the 230-seat Parliament compared with 73 for the second-placed Socialists.
The Social Democrat share represented about 39 percent of the vote. The centre-left Socialists' share was 28 percent.
Passos Coelho, who will likely become prime minister, said his government will do everything in its power to overcome the great difficulties it faces and also provide assurances that Portugal won't be a financial burden on Europe.
Social Democrat supporters waving the party's white-and-orange flags poured into Lisbon's main street, the Avenida da Liberdade, to celebrate their triumph.
"We have many hopes, now all they need to do is fulfil them," Antonio Cruz said.
One woman said she was just happy that Jose Socrates was not Prime Minister anymore.
"Let's hope the country gets better but at least we got rid of one person, Jose Socrates," Margarida Colaco said.
Though the Social Democrats fell short of an absolute majority in Parliament, where they will need approval for their policies, they could turn for support to the smaller, conservative Popular Party, which snared 24 seats.
Together, the traditional allies have more than half the places in the new Parliament, allowing them a majority that provides a free run to introduce the laws and measures they want, though some measures may require constitutional changes that would take an extended period to adopt. AP