LISBON, Portugal -- Former Socialist Prime Minister Mario Soares won a runoff presidential election Sunday to become Portugal's first civilian head of state in 60 years. He quickly promised to work at reuniting the politically divided Portuguese.
With 98 percent of the 4,138 precincts reporting, the 61-year-old Soares had 3,000,663 votes or 51.4 percent to 2,841,054 votes, or 48.6 percent, for Christian Democratic candidate Diogo Freitas Amaral, according to STAPE, Portugal's official electoral statistical service.
The Noticias de Portugal news agency forecast Soares with 51.7 percent of the vote to 48.3 percent for Freitas Amaral once all the votes were counted.
Freitas Amaral conceded defeat and congratulated his opponent. Soares supporters lighted Lisbon's skies with fireworks while motorcades honked in celebration Sunday night.
'I will not be the president of one party or of the majority that elected me but of all the Portuguese -- seeking to unite them,' Soares said his opponent conceded. He said the country had entered 'a new cycle' of democracy with the election of a civilian president.
The forecast indicated nearly 80 percent of the 7.6 million electorate -- 20 percent of them illiterate -- cast ballots in the peaceful election, marred only by the terrorist assassination Saturday of the country's senior prison official.
The new president, the nation's first civilian head of state in six decades, will take office by March 16, replacing army Gen. Antonio Ramalho Eanes, who served two terms and was constitutionally barred from seeking a third.
Heavy rain and wind across Portugal, which regained democracy 12 years ago, appeared to have hurt Freitas Amaral's chances, analysts said. The weather hit hard in the north and in the Azores, Freitas' conservative strongholds.
Soares -- a three-time premier and defender of Portuguese membership in NATO and the European Community -- suffered heavy defeats in parliamentary and local elections in the past four months at the hands of the ruling Social Democrats.
In the first round of presidential voting Jan. 26, he captured 25.4 percent of the vote. Freitas Amaral led the balloting with 46.3 percent of the vote. Two other leftist candidates, one backed by the Communist Party and both bitter rivals of Soares, were eliminated in the first round.
The runoff was called because no candidate drew a clear majority.
During the campaign Soares said he would have no difficulty working with the minority Social Democratic government of Prime Minister Anibal Cavaco Silva, who backed Freitas Amaral in the election.
Freitas Amaral's showing matched the highest ever combined vote won by rightist parties in 1980 parliamentary elections.
Soares's triumph was gained by mobilizing the feuding left bloc that gained a combined 53.7 percent in the first round.
Portugal has had 16 governments since leftist officers overthrew a 48-year dictatorship in 1974 and restored democracy. Portugal, known as 'the poor man of Europe,' suffered 11 percent unemployment, 19 percent inflation in 1985 and one of the world's highest per capita foreign debts.