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By Sergio Goncalves
LISBON (Reuters) -Portugal's main opposition party, the centre-right Social Democrats (PSD), secured a marginal lead over the ruling Socialist party after surging in opinion polls just days before a snap election, a survey published on Tuesday showed.
The opinion poll carried out by Aximage showed a huge jump in support for the Social Democrats (PSD), led by moderate economist Rui Rio, to 34.4% from 28.5% a week ago. The election takes place on Sunday.
Prime Minister Antonio Costa's centre-left Socialists saw a sharp decline, to 33.8% of voting intentions from 38.5% previously, confirming the downward trend seen in other polls.
The PSD has been gaining ground since emerging from a long period of internal turmoil in November, when it reelected Rio as its leader, and it has run a strong campaign.
Their improved prospects, and the wear and tear suffered by the Socialists while managing the COVID-19 pandemic, may have swayed many undecided voters lately, analysts say, although the election remains wide open.
"It will be a close fight until election day," said Adelino Maltez, professor of political science at the University of Lisbon, attributing Costa's drop to his repeated attacks on the PSD, which largely avoided trading barbs.
"This alienated... the average voter who is pragmatic and not committed to political struggles," Maltez said, adding that Costa could still come out on top.
Both parties polled well shy of a working majority, which means they will have to negotiate post-election alliances. The combined left still has a small lead, the poll showed.
In October, Costa's two former allies - the Communists and Left Bloc - sided with right-wing parties to reject the minority government's budget bill, triggering the snap election.
The Left Bloc and the Communists polled at 6.6% and 4.5% respectively in the Aximage survey. The far-right party Chega, on 8%, would become the third-largest force in parliament.
The Liberal Initiative party stood at 2.8%, the right-wing CDS-PP 1.6%, the left-leaning People-Animals-Nature (PAN) party 3.3%, and the eco-Socialist Livre 1.4%.
Analysts doubt the election alone will solve the existing impasse as no party or workable alliance is likely to achieve a stable majority, potentially undermining the country's ability to spur growth using European pandemic recovery funds.
Aximage surveyed 965 people on Jan. 16-21, with a margin of error of 3.15%.
(Editing by Andrei Khalip, Raissa Kasolowsky and Gareth Jones)