Portugal’s big names urge consensus as aid readied

LISBON (Reuters) – Nearly 50 important Portuguese figures, including veteran politicians and business leaders, urged rival parties Saturday to agree an urgent action plan to lead the country out of political and economic crisis.

The appeal came as euro zone ministers, meeting in Hungary, said the debt-laden country must make deeper budget cuts and commit to reforms in return for an 80 billion euro bailout the bloc wants to finalize by mid-May.

In an open letter, 47 prominent personalities called for the president, the caretaker government and the main political parties to reach a compromise “to guarantee the capacity to execute an immediate action plan that would allow external credibility to be secured.”

The minority Socialist government of Prime Minister Jose Socrates resigned last month after parliament rejected its latest austerity plan, designed to avoid a bailout. The country now faces a snap election on June 5.

“Difficulties in dialogue between political leaders and rising tensions in public debates on the eve of an election campaign threaten to dangerously undermine the defining of consistent solutions for national problems,” the group, including three ex-presidents, wrote.

Steeply rising borrowing costs and credit ratings downgrades forced the caretaker government to seek an international rescue package Wednesday. The main opposition party has backed the request for aid, but negotiations on an economic adjustment program — a precondition for assistance — are likely to be tough, as cross-party consensus will be needed.

The open letter, published in the Expresso weekly, urged the main parties to guarantee that the next government would have parliament’s unequivocal backing for a credible budget consolidation plan.

“Affirming these commitments via a joint effort by the political leaders would certainly help build a stable government solution, giving Portuguese a first premise to justify their sacrifices and look into the future with hope,” the letter said.

Socrates will run for the premiership again in the June election. The main opposition Social Democrats lead in opinion polls, but are far from winning an absolute majority.

The letter was signed by former prime minister and president Mario Soares, former presidents Antonio Ramalho Eanes and Jorge Sampaio, Belmiro de Azevedo — founder and chairman of Portugal’s largest retailer and employer Sonae — film director Manoel de Oliveira, and others.

(Reporting by Andrei Khalip, editing by Mark Trevelyan)

Portugal’s big names urge consensus as aid readied