Elections: Strong shift to the right in parliamentary elections in Portugal

Elections: Strong shift to the right in parliamentary elections in Portugal

Right-wing extremism was not a big issue in Portugal for a long time – longer than anywhere else in Europe. This has been over since Sunday’s election at the latest. The EU country is in danger of becoming ungovernable.

In the early parliamentary elections in Portugal, the ruling Socialists lost their absolute majority and the right-wing populists of the Chega party achieved huge gains in votes. After Sunday’s vote, everything indicated that the conservative party alliance Democratic Alliance (AD) will oust the Socialists (PS), who have been in power for a good eight years, from power. However, it is questionable in what constellation – because forming a coalition is likely to be very difficult given the majority situation. The major parties had ruled out right-wing populists taking part in government before the election.

With around 29.5 percent, after more than 99 percent of the votes were counted, the AD was only slightly ahead of the PS, which came to 28.7 percent. However, top candidate Luís Montenegro (51), a lawyer by training, claimed victory on Monday night. Socialist rival Pedro Nuno Santos admitted defeat and announced he would go into opposition.

Right-wing rights are growing strongly

The Chega (Enough is enough) party, which was only founded in 2019 by former television sports commentator André Ventura, remained the third strongest force, but drastically expanded its lead over the smaller parties: it was able to more than double its share of the vote of around seven percent in the previous vote at the beginning of 2022 – to a good 18 percent. In the “Assembleia da República” in Lisbon, which has 230 seats, it is likely to have at least 48 representatives instead of 12, i.e. four times as many as before. After almost all votes were counted, the AD got at least 79 seats, the PS 77.

Some critics see Chega – the best-known election slogan: “Clean up Portugal” – as having long since crossed the line from populism to right-wing extremism. Ventura and other party representatives scored points in the election campaign with slogans against immigrants, blaming them for an alleged increase in crime and complaining about a “corrupt oligarchy” of the established parties.

Portugal had long been considered a “bulwark” across Europe against the shift to the right that was being observed in many countries. The chairman of the SPD representatives in the EU Parliament, Jens Geier, warned against collaboration with the right-wing populists: Chega is “a one-man party without a real program that agitates against minorities.” And one of the greatest dangers for the future of the EU is that democrats help proven enemies of democracy gain power.

Firewall to the right

As things currently stand, Chega’s participation in the government is likely to be ruled out if the assurances of the top candidates Montenegro and Nuno Santos are to be believed. Both had assured before the election that they would under no circumstances negotiate cooperation with the right-wing populists. In Portugal – similar to the AfD in Germany – there is still a so-called firewall to the right.

That’s why the country is now facing difficulties in forming a government – and possibly even ungovernability. Even with the support of smaller parties, the AD will at best be able to form a weak minority government, which would have to be approved by Head of State Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa and also by Parliament. A “grand coalition” is considered impossible in Portugal. Similar to neighboring Spain, the two main parties are actually divided by insurmountable differences. Against this background, quite a few observers assume that new elections will take place soon.

The election campaign was marked by a housing shortage and high inflation

For the PS, which received 41 percent of the vote in 2022, the election outcome is a political disaster. So far, the Socialists have held 120 of the 230 seats in parliament due to the complicated system for distributing mandates. But several corruption scandals – including at the state airline TAP and the funding of lithium and hydrogen projects – put an end to the socialist success story in Portugal. President Rebelo de Sousa ultimately called new elections in November after the socialist Prime Minister António Costa resigned amid the scandal. Costa has been in office since then.

In addition to the corruption scandals, the current election campaign was characterized by social and economic problems such as housing shortages and high inflation, which hit the low-wage country particularly hard – and, according to experts, also provided breeding ground for the political shift to the right.

Source: Stern

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