Center-right candidate wins Portugal presidential vote outright

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Portugal Picks a New President Amid Turbulent Political Times

LISBON (Reuters) - Center-right candidate Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa won Portugal's presidential election on Sunday, preliminary results showed, an outcome that should help maintain political balance after a swing to the left in October's parliamentary ballot.

Portugal's president is a largely ceremonial figure but he plays an important role at times of political uncertainty - as have gripped the country since last October's inconclusive parliamentary election. He has the power to dissolve parliament and fire the prime minister.

With nearly all votes counted, preliminary results showed Rebelo de Sousa, a former journalist and one-time leader of the center-right Social Democrats, winning 52 percent of the vote, enough to avoid a runoff.

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Center-right candidate wins Portugal presidential vote outright
Right-wing candidate for Portugal's presidency Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa casts his ballot on January 24, 2016, at a poling station in Celorico de Basto, northern Portugal. Today the Portuguese vote for presidential elections with a record 10 candidates, led by conservative Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa. AFP PHOTO/ FRANCISCO LEONG / AFP / FRANCISCO LEONG (Photo credit should read FRANCISCO LEONG/AFP/Getty Images)
Portuguese President Anibal Cavaco Silva smiles as he speaks with journalists after casting his ballot at a polling station located at a school in Lisbon on January 24, 2016. Today the Portuguese vote for presidential elections with a record 10 candidates, led by conservative Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa. AFP PHOTO/ PATRICIA DE MELO MOREIRA / AFP / PATRICIA DE MELO MOREIRA (Photo credit should read PATRICIA DE MELO MOREIRA/AFP/Getty Images)
Presidential candidate Antonio Sampaio da Novoa addresses journalists and supporters after the announcement of the Presidential elections results in Lisbon on January 24, 2016. A 67-year-old law professor and TV pundit, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, was the clear winner today in Portugal's presidential election, with over 52 percent of the vote, according to a nearly-complete count. AFP PHOTO / JOSE MANUEL RIBEIRO / AFP / JOSE MANUEL RIBEIRO (Photo credit should read JOSE MANUEL RIBEIRO/AFP/Getty Images)
Portuguese President Anibal Cavaco Silva smiles after casting his ballot at a polling station located at a school in Lisbon on January 24, 2016. Today the Portuguese vote for presidential elections with a record 10 candidates, led by conservative Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa. AFP PHOTO/ PATRICIA DE MELO MOREIRA / AFP / PATRICIA DE MELO MOREIRA (Photo credit should read PATRICIA DE MELO MOREIRA/AFP/Getty Images)
Right-wing candidate for Portugal's presidency Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa (L) hugs his son Nuno after casting his ballot on January 24, 2016, at a poling station in Celorico de basto, norther Portugal. Today the Portuguese vote for presidential elections with a record 10 candidates, led by conservative Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa. AFP PHOTO/ FRANCISCO LEONG / AFP / FRANCISCO LEONG (Photo credit should read FRANCISCO LEONG/AFP/Getty Images)
Left-wing candidate for Portugal's presidency Antonio Sampaio da Novoa shakes hands with the polling station president after arriving to cast his ballot in Oeiras, outskirts of Lisbon on January 24, 2016. Today the Portuguese vote for presidential elections with a record 10 candidates, led by conservative Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa. AFP PHOTO/ PATRICIA DE MELO MOREIRA / AFP / PATRICIA DE MELO MOREIRA (Photo credit should read PATRICIA DE MELO MOREIRA/AFP/Getty Images)
Left-wing candidate for Portugal's presidency Antonio Sampaio da Novoa casts his vote at a polling station located at a school in Oeiras, outskirts of Lisbon on January 24, 2016. Today the Portuguese vote for presidential elections with a record 10 candidates, led by conservative Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa. AFP PHOTO/ PATRICIA DE MELO MOREIRA / AFP / PATRICIA DE MELO MOREIRA (Photo credit should read PATRICIA DE MELO MOREIRA/AFP/Getty Images)
Right-wing candidate for Portugal's presidency Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa gets his ballot on January 24, 2016, at a polling station in Celorico de Basto, northern Portugal. Today the Portuguese vote for presidential elections with a record 10 candidates, led by conservative Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa. AFP PHOTO/ FRANCISCO LEONG / AFP / FRANCISCO LEONG (Photo credit should read FRANCISCO LEONG/AFP/Getty Images)
Right-wing candidate for Portugal's presidency Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa takes part in the campaign closing meeting in Celorico de Basto, on January 22, 2016. Campaigning for Portugal's presidency officially got under way on January 10, with a record 10 candidates, led by conservative Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, contending the January 24 ballot. AFP PHOTO / MIGUEL RIOPA / AFP / MIGUEL RIOPA (Photo credit should read MIGUEL RIOPA/AFP/Getty Images)
Right-wing candidate for Portugal's presidency Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa (R) is kissed by a supporter during a campaign event in Guimaraes, on January 22, 2016. Campaigning for Portugal's presidency officially got under way on January 10, with a record 10 candidates, led by conservative Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, contending the January 24 ballot. AFP PHOTO / MIGUEL RIOPA / AFP / MIGUEL RIOPA (Photo credit should read MIGUEL RIOPA/AFP/Getty Images)
Right-wing candidate for Portugal's presidency Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa (R) is kissed by a supporter during a campaign event in Guimaraes, on January 22, 2016. Campaigning for Portugal's presidency officially got under way on January 10, with a record 10 candidates, led by conservative Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, contending the January 24 ballot. AFP PHOTO / MIGUEL RIOPA / AFP / MIGUEL RIOPA (Photo credit should read MIGUEL RIOPA/AFP/Getty Images)
Socialist candidate for Portugal's presidency Maria de Belem Roseira claps to acknoeledge her supporters at the end of the campaign closing meeting in Coimbra on January 22, 2016. Campaigning for Portugal's presidency officially got under way on January 10, with a record 10 candidates, led by conservative Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, contending the January 24 ballot. AFP PHOTO/ FRANCISCO LEONG / AFP / FRANCISCO LEONG (Photo credit should read FRANCISCO LEONG/AFP/Getty Images)
Right-wing candidate for Portugal's presidency Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa waves as he arrives at the campaign closing meeting in Celorico de Basto, on January 22, 2016. Campaigning for Portugal's presidency officially got under way on January 10, with a record 10 candidates, led by conservative Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, contending the January 24 ballot. AFP PHOTO / MIGUEL RIOPA / AFP / MIGUEL RIOPA (Photo credit should read MIGUEL RIOPA/AFP/Getty Images)
Left-wing candidate for Portugal's presidency Antonio Sampaio da Novoa (R) smiles as he is surrounded by supporters during a campaign event in Lisbon on January 22, 2016. Campaigning for Portugal's presidency officially got under way on January 10, with a record 10 candidates, led by conservative Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, contending the January 24 ballot. AFP PHOTO/ PATRICIA DE MELO MOREIRA / AFP / PATRICIA DE MELO MOREIRA (Photo credit should read PATRICIA DE MELO MOREIRA/AFP/Getty Images)
Right-wing candidate for Portugal's presidency Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa is cheered by supporters during a campaign event in Guimaraes, on January 22, 2016. Campaigning for Portugal's presidency officially got under way on January 10, with a record 10 candidates, led by conservative Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, contending the January 24 ballot. AFP PHOTO / MIGUEL RIOPA / AFP / MIGUEL RIOPA (Photo credit should read MIGUEL RIOPA/AFP/Getty Images)
Right-wing candidate for Portugal's presidency Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa (C) gestures as he is cheered by supporters during a campaign event in Guimaraes, on January 22, 2016. Campaigning for Portugal's presidency officially got under way on January 10, with a record 10 candidates, led by conservative Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, contending the January 24 ballot. AFP PHOTO / MIGUEL RIOPA / AFP / MIGUEL RIOPA (Photo credit should read MIGUEL RIOPA/AFP/Getty Images)
LISBON , PORTUGAL - JANUARY 18 : Right-wing candidate for Portugal's presidency Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa delivers a speech to members of the Portuguese Commerce Confederation during his presidential election campaign in Lisbon, Portugal on January 18, 2016. (Photo by Joao Henriques/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
LISBON , PORTUGAL - JANUARY 19 : Right-wing candidate for Portugal's presidency Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa visits a nursing home for the elders during his presidential election campaign in Barreiro, south of Lisbon, Portugal on January 19 , 2016. (Photo by Joao Henriques/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Left-wing candidate for Portugal's presidency Antonio Sampaio da Novoa gestures as he speaks during a campaign rally in Faro on January 13, 2016. Campaigning for Portugal's presidency officially got under way on January 10, with a record 10 candidates, led by conservative Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, contending the January 24 ballot. AFP PHOTO/ FRANCISCO LEONG / AFP / FRANCISCO LEONG (Photo credit should read FRANCISCO LEONG/AFP/Getty Images)
Right-wing candidate for Portugal's presidency Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa tastes a local delicacy during a campaingn event in Caldas da Rainha on January 15, 2016. Campaigning for Portugal's presidency officially got under way on January 10, with a record 10 candidates, led by conservative Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, contending the January 24 ballot. AFP PHOTO/ FRANCISCO LEONG / AFP / FRANCISCO LEONG (Photo credit should read FRANCISCO LEONG/AFP/Getty Images)
Right-wing candidate for Portugal's presidency Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa speaks during a campaign meeting in Almada, outskirts of Lisbon, on January 18, 2016. Campaigning for Portugal's presidency officially got under way on January 10, with a record 10 candidates, led by conservative Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, contending the January 24 ballot. AFP PHOTO/ FRANCISCO LEONG / AFP / FRANCISCO LEONG (Photo credit should read FRANCISCO LEONG/AFP/Getty Images)
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His closest rival, Socialist Antonio Sampaio da Novoa, conceded defeat after picking up around 23 percent of the vote. Left Bloc candidate Marisa Matias had 10 percent.

Rebelo de Sousa has promised to build consensus as president - something Portugal is likely to need as a shaky government of moderate center-left Socialists dependent on far-left parties for support in parliament tries to reconcile its election pledges to end economic austerity with budget deficit cuts promised to the European Union.

"I think Marcelo is what Portugal needs now, both as mediator and a bit of a counterweight to the left," said Maria Joao de Conceicao, a 43-year-old teacher, doing her weekly shopping after casting her ballot.

Many political analysts do not expect the Socialist-led government to serve a full four-year term and the new president could play a key role, either as mediator between the parties or using his power to dissolve parliament and call new elections.

Rebelo de Sousa will succeed President Anibal Cavaco Silva, a fellow conservative who said he only swore in the Socialist government as he was barred by the constitution from calling a new parliamentary election in his last six months in office.

That option will again become possible from April 4, six months after the parliamentary election.

The leftist parties have said Rebelo de Sousa may seek a return to unpopular right-wing economic policies, but he struck a conciliatory tone during his election campaign, saying Portugal needs "more social justice along with minimum financial equilibrium" - a stance similar to that of the Socialists.

Barely half of registered Portuguese voters cast their ballot in Sunday's election, though turnout was up slightly from the previous presidential poll in 2011.

(Reporting By Andrei Khalip; Editing by Gareth Jones)

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