Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa - this name may not say anything to you, if you are not into Portuguese politics, but it is very well known by the Portuguese people. Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa was a founding member of the Partido Social Democrata (Social Democratic Party), and its leader for 3 years, as well as Professor of Law, but he is mostly known thanks to his long years of work as a political commentator on television.
During the Presidency of Cavaco Silva, he was also a member of the Council of State, and in the last four years he was Chairman of the Board of the Casa de Bragança Foundation, which is responsible for the heritage of the last King of Portugal, Dom Manuel II, deceased in 1932 in London.
Because of his importance in Portuguese politics and academic life, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa was discussed as Presidential Candidate for a long time, but he always refused and only four months before the elections he made it official, in his family home town.
As expected, he was elected on the 24 of January with a majority (52% of votes). On the day after the elections, he was followed by tv reporters, and the reportage showed him making two mistakes: driving without a seat belt and parking his car in a disabled space; but on the day that he took office as Presient of the Republic, everyone forgot that and concentrated on his morning walk.
For the first time a (future) President arrived in the Portuguese Parliament on foot, this can be seen as normal in some Nordic countries, but in Portugal it is news which makes the front pages of the newspapers. Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa wants to be different from his predecessors, and made it clear on the day he took office as President.
The ceremony in the Portuguese Parliament, on the 9 of March, was different, with far less guests than the ones for the previous President. Between the invited guests, were King Felipe VI of Spain; the President of Mozambique Filipe Jacinto Nyusi (Marcelo’s father was one of the last governors of Mozambique as a Portuguese overseas province), and the President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker, who said on the previous day that Marcelo is "the right man in the right place".
After the ceremony in the Parliament, as normal, the new President went to the Jerónimos Monastery in Belém, where he left flowers at the tomb of Luís Vaz de Camões, one of the greatest poets of all time, who wrote “Os Lusíadas”. The President also decided, for the first time, to leave flowers at the tomb of Vasco da Gama, the Portuguese explorer who discovered the maritime route to India in 1498.
Following this tribute, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, first entered the Presidential Palace as President, to offer lunch to guests. In the afternoon, he participated in something unprecedented - an ecumenical ceremony with different beliefs at the Central Mosque of Lisbon. The President wanted to show that Portugal is a multicultural country where different beliefs and cultures live together without problems, and that he wants to maintain these values during his 5 year mandate.
After he knighted the former President Cavaco Silva, at Ajuda Palace, he dedicated the night to the young with concerts in the Municipal Square in Lisbon. The day after that he received greetings from the diplomatic corps, represented in Lisbon, his speech had focus in the three main goals of the Portuguese foreign policy that have been used since the Revolução dos Cravos: Portuguese Speaking Countries, Europe and the Atlantic ocean. The President also referred to some countries where Portugal can improve its relations, including Turkey and Russia. In the last day of the celebrations, the President went to Porto, where he said that the city “is in some way the cradle of freedom and democracy”. Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa wants to show that he is a President of all Portuguese, so for him, it made sense to visit the second city of Portugal in his first days as President, especially in this time when the Mayor of Porto has become a big critic of the politics of the Central Government in Lisbon.
On the weekend the President of Portugal opened the doors of his official residence, Belém Palace, for more than six thousand people, which had the opportunity to visit the Palace. As the last three Presidents, he will not live there, he will only use the Palace as his workplace. On Sunday, he went to see the former President Mário Soares - he was the only former President that Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa had not yet seen.
All these activities are unusual for a President in his first days. Marcelo also did not wait too long to make his first official visits. Only one week after he took office as President, he went to the Vatican and to Spain.
Spain is a logical visit, as it is a neighbouring country with which Portugal has good relations, and which is an important market for Portuguese companies. Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa was received by the King of Spain, who offered in his honour a dinner at the Royal Palace, in Madrid.
Before Spain the new President of Portugal was in the Vatican, where he spoke to Pope Francis, and asked him to come to Portugal next year to celebrate the 100th Anniversary of the Fátima Apparitions, on the 13th of May. Marcelo is religious, but he rejected that this was his motivation for his first official visit to a Head of State. The President referred that in 1179, it was Pope Alexander III who firstly recognized Portugal as an independent state.
The President of Portugal works as a moderator in the Portuguese Democracy, and he does not have a lot of powers, as the executive power is in the Government. Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa said during the campaign that he will not block any law that passes the Parliament, for example a law about euthanasia, even if he does not agree with it, because the Parliament represents the voice of the Portuguese people. The President in Portugal is also the Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, to mark this he had a military ceremony reception last Monday, in Mafra, where he first spoke to the Armed Forces.
Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa has shown in his first days that he is a different President, as he promised during the campaign. The President knows the risks that Portugal can suffer if there is a new political crisis, so he will try to minimize any negative affect that can happen in the Parliament. He will focus also on the election of António Guterres for United Nation General Secretary. The President will also give more importance to the Portuguese communities that live abroad. Even before he took office, he decided that his year for the Day of Portugal, Camões and the Portuguese Communities, he will go to Paris, where there are over a million ethnic Portuguese, making that area the place where most Portuguese emigrants live.