Centre right wins Portuguese race as far right surgeson March 11, 2024 at 2:27 am

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Portugal heads for a minority government after a tight vote in which the far right makes big gains.

Portugal's Social Democratic Party (PSD) and Democratic Alliance (AD) leader Luis Montenegro speaks to the members of the media near a polling station during the general election in Espinho, Portugal, March 10, 2024.Image source, Reuters

Portugal’s two main parties were almost neck and neck on Sunday night, with most of the votes counted from the election and little chance of anyone forming a majority government.

Only the far-right Chega could claim a clear-cut success, securing more than 40 seats and a million votes.

Exit polls had given the centre right a narrow victory, after eight years of Socialist rule.

But as results poured in, it became clear that it was too close to call.

Ten million Portuguese had the chance to cast their vote in Sunday’s snap election, four months after Socialist Prime Minister António Costa stood down amid corruption allegations, even though he was never named as a suspect.

And it was Mr Costa who warned Portuguese TV viewers late on Sunday night that they could be heading for a “possible tie” between the Socialists and the centre-right Democratic Alliance.

The final result could be dependent on four overseas seats, both in Europe and beyond.

Former centre-right leader Luís Marques Mendes said there had never been an election night like this before: “I think we’ll have fresh elections early next year.”

Neither of the two main parties is anywhere near a majority in the 230-seat parliament, and with 98% of votes counted the Democratic Alliance was on 29.6%, marginally ahead of the Socialists on 28.7%.

It had all looked so much better for centre-right leader Luís Montenegro, when exit polls gave him a narrow but clear victory. Supporters chanted “Portugal, Portugal” as his face appeared on TV screens, and an end to eight years of Socialist rule appeared to be in sight.

What did become clear was that the far-right Chega (Enough) party cemented its bid to be the third force in Portuguese politics.

Ex-football pundit André Ventura’s party secured about 18% of the vote, after a campaign focused on corruption and immigration. A former centre-right councillor, he formed Chega only five years ago and in the last election in 2022 secured 12 seats.

Chega has set its hopes on becoming a kingmaker, and the party hailed an “absolutely historic” night.

The party made dramatic gains, especially in the south, including the Algarve. It fared less well in the northern coastal city of Porto.

Turnout was set to be the highest for years, at almost 65%, even though the last elections were only two years ago.

The centre right has not been without its own problems. The Social Democratic Party, which dominates the Democratic Alliance, has been implicated in a regional scandal in Madeira.

The Chega leader said the result marked the end of an era dominated by two single parties, and his party was ready to help build the next government.

But so far the head of the centre-right alliance, Luís Montenegro, has said he will have nothing to do with him. He has condemned Mr Ventura, a former party colleague, as xenophobic and racist.

It is also clear that the two big parties will find enough common ground to form a government.

Whoever does emerge victorious would only be able to form a minority government. That will become very difficult in October when next year’s budget has to be agreed by parliament.

Far right political party Chega leader Andre Ventura arrives to the headquarters of the party, after the first exit polls were announced

Image source, Reuters

Socialist Finance Minister Fernando Medina said Chega’s success was “unfortunate” and he warned of a political picture of “great fragility and instability”.

After years of economic gloom, the Socialists can claim to have returned Portugal to growth of 2.3% last year, even though forecasts for 2024 are less rosy.

However, salaries are low and rents are soaring, which have led to increased dissatisfaction with the centre left.

Former presidential candidate Ana Gomes suggested that many voters in the Algarve may have backed Chega because the government had failed to respond to people’s problems such as price rises and cuts in water supplies.

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