Jose Socrates, the charming reformer

Jose Socrates, the charming reformerLisbon  - Portugal's outgoing Socialist Prime Minister Jose Socrates seemed to have been born to win, but he now faces a strong challenge from the conservative opposition in Sunday's elections.

Portugal's economic crisis and corruption allegations have weakened the position of the 52-year-old premier, whose self-confidence sometimes appears to border on arrogance.

Known for his designer suits and smooth manner, Socrates has been dubbed "Sunny Boy" and "Portugal's George Clooney."

Presenting himself as a reformer who would take one of Western Europe's poorest countries into full modernity, Socrates helped the Socialists win their first absolute majority under the current democracy in the 2005 elections.

He was seen as doing a respectable job in reining in Portugal's public deficit, and carried out structural reforms such as trimming the large public sector despite union protests.

He also won international applause for helping to push through the European Union's Lisbon Treaty during Portugal's EU presidency in 2007.

At the same time, however, Socrates was accused of having obtained his engineering degree fraudulently, and faced allegations that he was linked to a corruption scandal involving the construction of a shopping mall while he was environment minister in 2002.

His position has been undermined further by recent accusations of media censorship, and allegations that his secret service spied on President Anibal Cavaco Silva.

Born in Oporto, Socrates grew up with his divorced architect father in central Portugal.

He studied engineering and entered politics early on, eventually obtaining the sports and environment portfolios in prime minister Antonio Guterres' Socialist governments between 1997 and 2002.

The divorced father of two was elected party leader shortly before the 2005 elections. (dpa)