Chega, the universe of the disenchanted who embrace the extreme right in Portugal |

One day in 2018 André Ventura called his friend Nuno Afonso to ask for help in founding a new party in Portugal. Both were active in the Social Democratic Party (PSD, center-right), where Ventura had fallen out with its leader, the moderate Rui Rio, and had failed in his attempt to lead an internal revolt. “At first I didn’t pay much attention to him because other times he had called me to tell me that he wanted to preside over Benfica, be the best writer in the world or preside over the Sintra City Council,” Afonso recalled by phone this Thursday.

Even though Ventura made a erasmus in Salamanca and then earned a doctorate in Law at the University of Cork (Ireland), both had maintained the friendship of the Sintra days. Afonso decided to follow him after receiving a second request for help. Seven or eight people attended the first meeting of what was not yet called Chega, in October 2018. “There was everything, neoliberals from the Austrian school, Trump fans, pro- and anti-abortionists, none of that was important to André, the only thing that united us was that we were his friends and, therefore, no one would antagonize him,” says Nuno Afonso, who was vice president of the party and its chief of staff before abandoning militancy in 2022 after a cascade of disagreements. Chega, meanwhile, has consolidated himself and aspires to enter the Executive if the right wins the elections on March 10.

Ventura (Sintra, 41 years old) decided to baptize the new organization with the name of that internal protest movement that he had encouraged in the PSD (Enough of Rui Rio, Enough of Rui Rio). The party was born as a personal project of a leader who believes that God has entrusted him with a mission to transform Portugal. “I believe that God placed me in this place, at this time,” he has stated on some occasion. The leader of Chega, who was a seminarian before studying Law, maintains religious faith as a more solid pillar even than his political postulates, which he has been modulating as he broadened his electoral base. “He is neither left nor right, he is driven by power. Today the party functions like a sect where no one dares to criticize it,” reproaches his former vice president. “Ventura does not believe in 50% of what he says, but he adapts like a chameleon to his audience, he is the most skilled politician at doing so,” adds journalist Miguel Carvalho, who has thoroughly investigated the Chega universe.

Nuno Afonso, who heads another electoral list on the right in the elections on March 10, is not the only one who has broken with the party. “A good part of the founders of Chega are no longer here for different reasons. Some because they feel cheated, others because they consider that the party is more social democratic than radical and others because they talk to the aliens who tell them that the path is not that way,” says Miguel Carvalho ironically.

André Ventura, leader of Chega, sings the Portuguese anthem at an electoral event with other party leaders in Lamego on March 1.joao henriques

The dissent reached the Constitutional Court on several occasions, which forced the statutes to be rewritten and even annulled the 2023 congress after being challenged by Fernanda Marques Lopes, a lawyer who had founded the organization and chaired its legal council. The setbacks in the courts have not prevented Chega from starring in the most brilliantly successful political phenomenon of Portuguese democracy, galloping on controversial proposals and statements that placed him on the extreme right: chemical castration for sexual offenders, specific confinement for gypsies in a pandemic, attacks on the beneficiaries of social aid and the conspiracy theory of the great demographic replacement formulated by the Frenchman Renaud Camus. His motto in this campaign: “Clear Portugal”. The posters identify those who need to be cleaned: current socialist politicians who are mixed with those investigated for serious cases of corruption from the past such as the banker Ricardo Salgado or the former prime minister José Sócrates.

Boosted by his popularity as a passionate Benfica television commentator, André Ventura consolidated himself starting in 2019 by entering the Assembly of the Republic. “His strategy was to gain media attention and become the number one enemy of political correctness. As of 2022 he changed; with a parliamentary group of 12 deputies, his objective was to build the image of a party in the phase of professionalization, determined to integrate into the institutions,” compares Riccardo Marchi, researcher at the Lisbon University Institute and author of the book The new anti-establishment right. The case of Chega (2020).

Ventura seeks emotions. “Before I was a member of the PSD, I did not feel represented as I feel now with the way our president speaks and with his convictions,” says Milena Lopes, an employee in the Tax Administration and a member since the beginning. Alcino Costa has also accompanied Ventura since its beginnings. “The other parties never inspired confidence in me. I read Chega’s program, I liked it and I signed up without knowing anyone,” explains Costa, a 77-year-old pensioner who lives in Santo Tirso and identifies as “conservative, Christian and Catholic.” After attending an electoral event in a restaurant in Lamego, Alcino explains the reasons that lead him to believe in Chega’s project: “Eliminate corruption and cronyism; that we stop being in a miserable country, where people get tired of paying taxes to give money to others who don’t want to work. There are people who receive 340 euros in pension while we have corrupt politicians; This creates a feeling of revolt that leads people to trust people like André Ventura.”

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Feeling of revolt. Children of wrath. There is a good part of the fuel of the Chega universe. Alcino Costa was an emigrant in France for ten years, he set up a restaurant upon his return and now compensates for his meager retirement (600 euros in pension from Portugal and 300 from France) with a tourist accommodation business. “I was an emigrant, but there have to be limits, they can’t come without having somewhere to work or sleep,” he says. “We don’t want more bandits in Portugal than we already have,” Ventura said in this campaign, which proposes limiting public aid to immigrants and expelling those who commit crimes.

Although there is no statistical support in the country to associate immigration and crime, the truth is that the former conservative prime minister Pedro Passos Coelho, in his rally supporting the candidate Luís Montenegro, approached Chega’s speech when defending a country “open to immigration but, be careful! We also need to have a safe country (…). Today, people feel an insecurity that is the lack of priority in these matters.” In a later speech, Ventura boasted that “Passos Coelho will soon change to Chega.”

Its electorate is heterogeneous. “His voters believe in only three or four of the leader’s ideas, but they are fed up with current politics and believe that this is how they protest in a radical way,” says Miguel Carvalho. Even former communist voters in Alentejo will support the far right. “It is more common than we imagine because it is a question of faith, before in the communists and now in Chega,” says the journalist. In his latest investigative report, in Public, reveals some party financiers as members of powerful business families such as the Mello or Champalimaud. Among the comments he received was this: “Public You have to stop with these articles that encourage hatred of Chega, otherwise one day some crazy person will lose his mind and something happens. Charlie Hebdo in Portugal”. The undersigned identified himself as a member of the “moderate faction” of the Ventura party.

A Chega activist with a party scarf at a rally in Lamego, March 1.
A Chega activist with a party scarf at a rally in Lamego, March 1.joao henriques

For Riccardo Machi, his voters are united by the protest. “Attention, it is not an electorate dissatisfied with democracy, but with its functioning,” he clarifies. “They have a dichotomous vision of reality, they see the Portuguese people as a homogeneous entity betrayed by a corrupt political and economic elite,” he underlines in an email. This feeling, he adds, comes from the economic stagnation of the beginning of the 21st century and is aggravated by the intervention of the country by the troika between 2011 and 2015, as well as the corruption scandals of the socialist José Sócrates, the bailout of the banks or the recent cases that have led to the fall of António Costa’s Government last November. “Chega was born as a party that is very conservative in values ​​and very liberal in the economy, which has shaped its discourse to connect with its electoral base,” argues Marchi.

In just five years, the extreme right has become the third force. For the March 10 elections, some polls give him almost 20% of the votes, almost triple his current representation. Ventura already speaks openly about the end of the two-party system in Portugal and the beginning of a three-party era. His objective is not limited to growth. “We want to reach the Government to change people’s lives,” says the general secretary of Chega, Pedro Pinto. No party seems to have any chance of governing with an absolute majority, although recent polls agree that the right-wing bloc will win. The leader of the center-right, Luís Montenegro, has reiterated that he does not want Chega in the Government, but doubt persists about what will finally happen. And Chega knows what he wants. “Justice and security are two flags that we do not abdicate,” says Pedro Pinto.

Despite his rise, his campaign runs far from the street, in restaurant rooms where lunches or dinners are held with speeches and music. The caravan has focused its efforts on the north and center of Portugal, where they are weaker and where they will spend nine of the 13 days of the campaign. “The south of the country is very conquered, we feel that we have a loyal electorate in the Algarve, Setúbal or Évora, but to reach the Government we have to conquer the north,” explains the general secretary of Chega.

Sometimes the dinner-rally ends with the song Conquistador, a song that failed at Eurovision but that connects with a part of history that Ventura likes: the centuries of Portuguese power over the oceans. He dances in videos for Tik-Tok, where he is successful among young people, and he also dances in some rallies, where he attacks his rivals, even those with whom he aspires to ally. He considers the Democratic Alliance, the right-wing electoral coalition with which he wants to agree to govern Portugal, “a Spanish brothel” and its leader, Luís Montenegro, a “useful fool.”

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