Portugal Presidential Election: Who is Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa?

24/01/2016_Rebelo de Sousa
Portugal’s new president Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa in Lisbon, Portugal, January 24. He has pledged to restore stability to the country’s politics. Rafael Marchante/Reuters

Center-right politician Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, a former leader of Portugal's opposition Social Democrats, is the country's new president following elections on Sunday. The charismatic 67-year-old law professor became a household name for his thoughtful but entertaining political punditry in the 2000s, earning him the affectionate nickname "Professor Marcelo." He took 52 percent of the vote with 99 percent of ballots counted, storming to victory in the first round.

De Sousa had consistently led in the polls in the run-up to the election. His victory follows the surprise formation of a left-wing coalition government after an October general election in which the old center-right government lost its majority in parliament.

What does his victory mean for the country?

Portugal's outgoing president Anibal Cavaco Silva had a turbulent relationship with the new government, led by the Socialist leader Antonio Costa and propped up by the Communist, Left Bloc and Green parties. Silva initially urged Costa to support a center-right administration in return for policy trade-offs, and subsequently resisted swearing in Costa until he provided guarantees that his government would not breach EU rules. But De Sousa has pledged to fulfill his role in a neutral manner, supporting Costa's government and serving as a "referee" between warring parties. "Without renouncing my ideas, I'll try not to discriminate," he told Euronews in January. "I won't create any problem, any instability, any criticism of government action." Voters hope his tenure will bring stability back to the country's political scene.

What can the president actually do?

In common with many European countries, Portugal's presidency is largely a ceremonial position. But the incumbent can dissolve parliament, call elections, appoint prime ministers and send legislation to the constitutional court for vetting. That means, however conciliatory his tone, De Sousa could be an important check on the power of the government. He told Euronews that he would be willing to dissolve parliament if the smooth functioning of Portugal's parliament and courts is threatened, and said that while anti-austerity policies seemed "fair," they would need "balancing to avoid financial slippage."