LISBON - Portugal's opposition Socialists inflicted a stinging defeat on the Social Democrats in local elections as voters displayed their frustrations at the government's austerity measures.
Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho admitted his conservative Social Democrat party's "national defeat" in the municipal polls Sunday, which saw them lose control of the major cities of Porto, Sintra and Vila Nova de Gaia to the Socialists, according to partial results.
The opposition Socialists also retained power in the capital Lisbon, with an increased share of the vote.
"We had the goal of retaining the majority of town halls but that didn't happen," Passos Coelho said, congratulating the opposition Socialists for their "significant victory".
"As Prime Minister I will continue along the path we are on, which is essential in order to overcome the economic crisis and restore confidence and growth for Portugal," the prime minister insisted.
"The SDP has suffered its worst results in municipal elections," he said, calling the defeat the "price to pay" for the government's austerity policies.
According to partial results covering nearly 90 per cent of the constituencies, the Socialists won 36.7 per cent of the vote with the Social Democrats garnering just 18.9 per cent.
That translates into 130 municipalities for the Socialists against 90 for the SDP and its allies, with another 40-plus results to come in.
At the previous municipal elections in 2009, the SDP, together with allied right-leaning parties, won a majority of the municipalities, securing 139 against 132 for the Socialists, who nonetheless won more individual votes.
The elections were seen as the first test of the austerity policies championed by the two-year-old centre-right coalition government.