A president who patiently awaits his turn in Bermuda shorts in the queue of a supermarket, who does not hesitate to throw himself into the sea to help two young girls whose canoe has overturned, or to share a meal with the homeless: anecdotes about Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa are multiplying and no longer surprise the Portuguese. Naturalness and spontaneity have become the hallmark of the Head of State, always ready to take a picture of himself with his admirers for a “marselfie”, a popular hashtag and neologism recognized by certain dictionaries.
Whether it’s a deadly fire or a national sport success, this 72-year-old man with sparkling blue eyes is often the first to react, and sometimes even get to the scene behind the wheel of his car, by catching the socialist government or its own entourage by surprise.
As at ease in power circles as with the most disadvantaged, with his allure of everyone, he has imposed his style of “president of affects”, who takes the time to listen and comfort those who are in distress. This closeness made him one of the few politicians whom the Portuguese call by his first name, which he takes from Marcelo Caetano, witness of his parents’ marriage and who, succeeding the dictator Antonio Salazar, ruled Portugal between 1968 and the Carnation Revolution of 1974.
A father minister under Caetano
Born in Lisbon on December 12, 1948, Rebelo de Sousa came from the political elites of the time. His father, a doctor, was minister and colonial governor under Caetano. A brilliant student, the young Marcelo graduated in law with an average of 19 out of 20, and dreamed from an early age to rule his country. A hyperactive young man, he quickly approached the most moderate circles of the regime, which demanded more openness, and he took part, in 1973, in the creation of the weekly Expresso, of which he became one of the most feared columnists.
Without ever giving up his career as an eminent professor of law, this fervent Catholic, divorced and father of two, entered politics after the advent of democracy, by participating in the founding of the Social Democratic Party (PSD, center -right), of which he became a Member of Parliament, then Minister of Parliamentary Affairs. After an interlude of several years, he returned to the fore in 1996, when he took the reins of the PSD, then in the opposition. However, a few months before the legislative elections of 1999, he missed his chance by throwing in the towel after the failure of a right-wing coalition project.
Free electron of political life
“I’ve known more failures than victories, so I always put things into perspective. When I lost, it wasn’t the end of the world. And when I won, I didn’t take myself for the best, ”he said recently, in response to critics who accuse him of not getting enough involved in the campaign that must seal his reelection. “Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa doesn’t really need to campaign. He himself is in the habit of saying that he has been in the countryside for twenty years, ”explains political scientist Paula Espirito Santo, from the University of Lisbon.
Because this free electron of political life has managed to firmly establish his popularity, even beyond his conservative camp, thanks to a long career as a star commentator of politics on television, which he has not given up. that to become president.