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Who is Luis Montenegro? The new prime minister and unlikely champion of the right in Portugal

Luis Montenegrothe moderate right-wing leader appointed this Thursday prime minister of Portugalis a seasoned deputy, but without government experience, perceived as honest and competent despite his lack of charisma.

The 51-year-old politician became the new Portuguese leader after the victory of his Democratic Alliance in the legislative elections of March 10, with a short majority that will force him to govern as a minority.

Lawyer by trainingbecame head of the opposition after the Socialist Party (PS) won the previous legislative elections, in January 2022, with an absolute majority.

Of imposing height, dark hair, blue eyes and dimples on his chin, seemed destined to play a supporting role. But the surprise resignation of António Costa, punctuated by a case of influence peddlingput this trained lawyer in the foreground.

Luis Montenegro before being nominated prime minister by President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa. Photo: EFE

Montenegro He dedicated his entire life to politics. At the age of 29, he was elected deputy and perfected his rhetoric until he became head of the parliamentary group of the Social Democratic Party (PSD, center-right) during his last period in power, between 2011 and 2015.

During this period, he supported the implementation of a rigorous fiscal austerity program negotiated by Portugal with the EU-ECB-IMF “troika” in exchange for a financial aid package, which prevented its bankruptcy during the eurozone debt crisis. .

“People’s lives did not improve, but the country is better“, he stated in defense of this unpopular economic policy. A phrase that was highly criticized and perceived as not very empathetic.

But in pre-election polls, voters described him as a “more honest” and “more competent” man than his opponent, the new socialist leader Pedro Nuno Santos, although most commentators and editorialists considered him to lack charisma.

Montenegro born in Portothe large city in the north of the country, but he grew up in the town of Espinho, about 20 km further south, where he currently lives with his wife and two children.

A fan of FC Porto, he worked in that same coastal town as a lifeguard during his youth. In that period, he also joined the youth of the PSD, where he began his political career.

Montenegro He became a councilor when he was just 24 years old.but failed when he tried to be elected mayor of Espinho in the 2005 municipal elections.

Montenegro dedicated his entire life to politics.  Photo: PATRICIA DE MELO MOREIRA / AFPMontenegro dedicated his entire life to politics. Photo: PATRICIA DE MELO MOREIRA / AFP

After leaving Parliament in 2018, he tried to lead his party two years later. He achieved it in May 2022, backed by the internal current that still supported the former Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho.

Not the populist extreme right

But since then, both men have distanced themselves for the challenge posed by the rise of the extreme right. Montenegro has rejected any agreement with the populist Chega party.

“No means no”he insisted during the electoral campaign, a promise that he has reiterated after confirming his victory at the polls.

His close collaborators describe him as someone who is sometimes stubborn, who likes to make decisions for himself. “Power is exercised with a certain discretion and sometimes in great solitude,” he had once said.

In addition to the judicial problems that brought down the outgoing socialist governmente, Montenegro is also the subject of an investigation about the tax benefits you received when building his luxurious house in Espinho.

With information from Levi Fernandes, AFP

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