Socialists strengthen their hand in Portugal’s legislative elections

By Paula Fernandez

Lisbon, Jan 30 (EFE).- The Socialists headed by Prime Minister Antonio Costa strengthened their grip on legislative power in Portugal on sunday after scoring a clear victory in the country’s parliamentary elections, a result that improves upon their win in 2019 and which puts them close to holding an absolute majority in Parliament.

The Socialist Party (PS) should obtain 42 percent of the votes, above the 36 percent it garnered in 2019, according to preliminary results with more than half the ballots counted.

This would be a win considerably above what the latest voter surveys had forecast, which had pointed to a too-close-to-call race between Costa’s Socialists and the center-right conservative opposition (PSD) headed by Rui Rio.

“After two years (since the last elections) we’re up against the second strengthening of the PS,” said Costa in remarks to state-run RTP television after the initial projections of the elections were reported, adding that it was “a sign that the Portuguese want the PS to govern.”

The big question, however, is whether the PS will get an absolute majority, and in this regard Costa remained cautious, calling this an “extreme scenario” that is not “expected.”

In 2019, the PS obtained 108 of the 230 seats in Parliament and was eight seats shy of an absolute majority of 116, whereupon Costa decided to dispense with the support of the Leftist Bloc and the communists who had backed him during his first legislature and operate as a minority government negotiating each bill or issue on a case by case basis and garnering support where he could.

The strategy paid off two years later, when his former leftist partners voted against the Socialist government’s 2022 budget and left him hanging and he called legislative elections, and now Costa has turned the situation to his advantage.

The legislative vote has enabled the Socialists to strengthen their presence in Parliament while the minority parties of the left lost voter support.

The Leftist Bloc acknowledged its “defeat” and, in initial reaction to the ongoing vote count, said that the “bipolarization forced” by the Socialists in recent weeks “was successful in creating a useful vote for the left,” according to the bloc’s parliamentary leader, Pedro Filipe Soares.

On the other side of the legislature, long faces prevailed among the PSD as – after the campaign wrapped up amid voter survey precipitated euphoria that now looks misplaced – the party should wind up with about 28-30 percent of the votes.

This is somewhat more than the PSD garnered in 2019 (27.76 percent) but even so it may not be enough to ensure that Rio survives as party chief, given that his leadership has been questioned for the past four years, although he had received a little oxygen from the so-called “Lisbon effect” in municipal elections where the PSD snatched the capital government away from the PS, in contrast to forecasts by all voter surveys.

This time, things have flipped back around, with voter surveys overestimating the PSD’s pull and the “Portugal effect” suffocating the party’s legislative hopes.

The big winner on the right is, in fact, the ultra-rightist Chega, with 1.29 percent of the votes in 2019 and one seat in Parliament, although this time around they are expected to be the third-largest political force in the chamber with more than 7.5 percent of the vote and somewhere on the order of eight to 12 seats.

“Today, we can be happy with the growth of Chega, and we are, because people have understood the message,” said party leader Andre Ventura upon his arrival at the “general headquarters” where he followed the vote returns.

The liberals, who also had one seat in Parliament, also gained among voters, in contrast to the Christian Democrats of the CDS, who confirmed that they had received fewer votes than they picked up two years ago, this at a time when pandemic infections are at record levels and voter abstention has grown from the 51 percent seen in 2019.

Election day transpired without incidents, with even those isolated due to Covid-19 being able to vote by being authorized to break their quarantine to go to the polls, specifically during the last hour prior to the closing of the precincts.



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