Portugal’s ruling socialists and right-wing extremist party Chega are looking forward to quick legal elections

Portugal’s ruling socialists won Sunday’s early elections by a large margin but can still not reach a direct majority while the far right made enormous progress, exit polls showed.

Prime Minister Antonio Costa’s party received between 37 percent and 42.5 percent of the vote, compared with between 27 percent and 35 percent for the main opposition center-right PSD, according to polls for TV stations RTP, SIC and TVI.

It would give the Socialists 100 to 118 seats in parliament with 230 seats, up from 108 in the outgoing assembly.

A party needs at least 116 seats to have an absolute majority.

At the Socialist Party’s campaign headquarters, supporters stood up and cheered when the estimated results were published.

A significant development was the emergence of the emerging right-wing party Chega, which won up to 8.5 percent of the vote, making it the third largest party in the assembly with six to 14 seats.

The party has only one legislator in the outgoing assembly and its rise reflects gains for other populist right-wing extremist formations elsewhere in Europe.

The early election came when the nation of about 10 million people is trying to strengthen its tourism-dependent economy, which has been hit hard by the pandemic.

A stable government is needed for Portugal to get the most out of a € 16.6 billion ($ 18.7 billion) package of European Union recovery funds that it will receive by 2026.

Costa, 60, had said during the campaign that he planned to rule alone if the Socialists failed to secure a majority, and negotiated support from other parties for case-by-case laws.

Competence and experience Costa has relied on two far-left parties – the Left Bloc and the Communist Party – to support two socialist minority governments since 2015.

But the two formations turned against him in October and merged with the right to vote down his draft budget for 2022, prompting Sunday’s early elections.

The Socialists had a comfortable lead when the election was called, but the PSD managed to close the gap as the polling stations approached.

During the last week of the campaign, Costa repeatedly warned that a PSD-led government would be a “hostage” for Chega, whose proposals include the castration of sex offenders and tougher Covid-19 restrictions on Roma society.

Rio had promised not to include Chega in a government but has indicated he is willing to lead a minority government backed by far-right parliamentary support.

Catia Reis, a 39-year-old chief of staff, said she had voted for the Socialists because “stability is needed”.

“This is not the time for a political change,” she added after casting her ballot in a polling station in Lisbon.

Although there is “some disappointment” with the Socialists, most voters believe that Costa has “more skills and experience to govern” than PSD leader Rui Rio, says political scientist Marina Costa Lobo at the University of Lisbon.

Under Costa’s surveillance, Portugal has withdrawn austerity measures, maintained fiscal discipline and lowered unemployment to pre-pandemic levels.

The country also achieved the highest degree of immunization against Covid-19 in Europe, with over 90 percent of the population fully vaccinated.

But PSD’s Rio claims that the economy – which the Bank of Portugal projects grew by 4.8 percent last year – should expand faster.

He had called for lower corporate taxes and privatizations to strengthen Portugal’s competitiveness and stimulate growth.

Portugal’s Socialist Party is doing better than its peers in many other European countries, such as Greece and France, where they have been virtually wiped off the map in recent years.

(AFP)

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