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Abstention by far-right in Azores raises hopes for Portugal's new government

Portugal's Azores braces for disaster following a series of small earthquakes

By Sergio Goncalves

LISBON (Reuters) - Portugal's far-right Chega party abstained on Friday from voting on the Social Democratic Party's (PSD) minority government policy programme in the Azores islands, thereby letting it pass, a move PSD hopes Chega will replicate nationwide after last weekend's inconclusive election.

Chega has demanded to be included in Portugal's new government after the centre-right Democratic Alliance (AD) won Sunday's national general election by a slim margin, but has been rebuffed by PSD.

PSD, which formed the regional government in the Azores after winning a Feb. 4 regional election there, is also the biggest party in the national Democratic Alliance.

After last month's Azores election, the local Chega Açores party initially demanded to be part of the regional government, but PSD Azores leader Jose Manuel Bolieiro said his party would instead run a minority government and pass legislation with case-by-case support from other parties.

AD plans a similar strategy at national level.

Bolieiro said on Friday that at national level "negotiation is also necessary" given the patchwork of parties that will make up the legislature following Sunday's election.

"There will be responsibility and determination to make our democracy in Portugal stable and the country governable, but I don't believe there is a need for (coalition) agreements (with Chega)", he said.

The leader of Chega Açores' parliamentary bloc, Jose Pacheco, said on Friday that his party "is always part of the solution and never the problem, as long as there is dialogue and respect."

Chega quadrupled its seat share in Portugal's parliament by capitalising on disgruntlement among voters with traditional parties and underinvestment in public services, but AD hopes that its proposed tax cuts and wage hikes will be impossible for Chega to reject.

Adelino Maltez, a political scientist at Lisbon Technical University, said that Chega is likely to also allow the AD to pass legislation in the short term and "it shouldn't bring down the PSD government yet, but its stability in the medium term is not guaranteed."

(Reporting by Sergio Goncalves; Editing by Susan Fenton)