Reconfined since January 15 due to an upsurge in Covid-19 cases, the Portuguese were invited to leave their homes on Sunday June 24 to elect their president. An election which should ratify the renewal of the incumbent, the moderate conservative Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa.
“To those who can and who want to vote, overcome your fears”, declared the current head of state after having voted himself in his stronghold of Celorico de Basto, in the region of Minho (north). “The vote is going well throughout the country, with distancing, respect for health rules and patience on the part of the Portuguese. (…) People can vote without any problem ”, he insisted.
With a participation rate of 35.4% at 4 p.m. (5 p.m. in Paris), the mobilization was only slightly down compared to the 2016 presidential election (37.7% at the same time), while some analysts feared a record abstention of around 70%.
Across the country, voters had to queue in front of polling stations, standing at bay before they could enter one by one. “Me, nothing would have prevented me from voting, but I think that the elderly, for example, will be demotivated both by the virus and by the queues”, testified José Barra, a 54-year-old architect, after voting in a library in the center of the capital.
“Even if it is important to come and vote while you are in confinement, it makes no sense to leave the house and regroup with thousands of people”, estimated another voter, Luis Araujo, on his way to a polling station in a school in Lisbon. Inside, the line stretched along the stairs as employees sanitized the premises, equipped with full protective suits.
The president wants to avoid a second round
To try to stop the explosion of the epidemic, Portugal and its 10 million inhabitants have been subjected for ten days to a second general containment. After shops and restaurants, the government had to resolve to close schools on Friday for two weeks.
New daily records of contaminations and deaths were broken again on Saturday, bringing the total toll since the start of the pandemic beyond the threshold of 10,000 deaths. With 85,000 contagions and nearly 1,500 deaths during the past week, Portugal ranks first in the world over this period in terms of the number of new cases and deaths in relation to its population, surpassed only by the British enclave of Gibraltar , according to data collected by Agence France-Presse (AFP) from national authorities.
At the end of the campaign, the current head of state asked voters to vote for him in order to avoid a second round, scheduled for February 14, and so “To spare the Portuguese the prolongation of the election for three crucial weeks” to curb the epidemic. “A 70% abstention is enough to make a second round almost inevitable”, worried Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, a 72-year-old former law professor who became famous as a political commentator on television.
Local media screenings are expected around 9 p.m. and official results will be announced immediately, but all polls conducted before the election predicted his victory in the first round.
The other stake in the ballot is the score that will be the far-right candidate André Ventura, who hopes to confirm the progression of right-wing populism in a country which, until now, was an exception. With a score of 1.3% and the 70,000 votes obtained in the legislative elections of 2019, this 38-year-old lawyer then became the sole deputy of the anti-system Chega party (« Enough ”) that he founded.
Mr Ventura’s stated goal is to come in second, ahead of former Socialist MEP Ana Gomes, a 66-year-old career diplomat who has become a prominent anti-corruption activist. Without the support of Socialist Prime Minister Antonio Costa, who has so far cohabited without difficulty with Mr. Rebelo de Sousa, she campaigned by promising to block the far right.