Portugal votes in elections marked by uncertainty in the formation of government alliances |

The Portuguese returned to the polls this Sunday, just two years after granting a historic absolute majority to the Socialist Party. In 2022, no one had anticipated the result that promoted its leader, António Costa, to the kingdom of heaven of the party founded by Mário Soares in 1973. But Portugal is a country of surprises. Neither the polls predicted that historic victory nor, of course, anyone suspected that the prime minister would resign halfway through his term, entangled in a judicial investigation of business projects that involved collaborators as close as his chief of staff, Vitor Escária. The President of the Republic, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, considered that such a political crisis could only be resolved with early elections. And they are at it today, at the moment with a great participation. By mid-afternoon, 51.96% of voters had gone to the polls, the highest percentage since the 2015 legislative elections.

The center-right is hoping to return to power after eight years of opposition, if the polls’ predictions are confirmed. Luís Montenegro, the leader of the Social Democratic Party (PSD, center-right) for whom no one gave a euro, starting with the heavyweights of his formation, has reached the end of the campaign better placed in the polls than his rival, the former socialist minister Pedro Nuno Santos. 27% in direct voting intention for Montenegro compared to 22% for his opponent, according to the latest survey published on Friday by the newspaper Public. However, with a still high percentage of undecided voters (16%) among the 10.8 million voters, there is room for the unexpected.

António Costa and Pedro Nuno Santos, on Friday on the last day of the Lisbon campaign.

Montenegro is running at the head of an electoral coalition, the Democratic Alliance (AD), which recovers an invention from the first years of Portuguese democracy. On that occasion, Francisco Sá Carneiro became the first center-right politician to come to power after the Carnation Revolution, which occurred half a century ago, at the head of an electoral platform that also included the Social Democratic Center-Popular Party (CDS- PP, conservative right) and the Popular Monarchist Party. Montenegro has decided to repeat it more than four decades later, despite the fact that neither of its partners has strength in current politics and both lack representation in the Assembly of the Republic, the only Chamber of the Portuguese parliamentary system. More than adding real forces, the PSD leader wanted to convey a message of right-wing unity and ideological integration. Some independents also appear on his lists and, in the campaign, he has received the support of the mayor of Porto, the independent Rui Moreira.

Fatigue after eight years of socialist government and the accumulation of errors by António Costa’s Cabinet during the two years of absolute majority play in Montenegro’s favor. On the contrary there has been friendly fire. Some of the biggest controversies of the campaign were raised by supporters from Montenegro, such as former Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho, who linked immigration and insecurity, in line with the speech of Chega, the far-right party, or a candidate who defended calling a new referendum on abortion. Portugal decriminalized voluntary interruption during the first 10 weeks of pregnancy in 2007. The PSD candidate has shown a more moderate profile, has promised not to stir up the issue of abortion and has addressed the political center where the undecided float. Even when he was attacked by activists against the climate emergency, who smeared him with green ink, he maintained his composure and smile. His main excess in relation to his socialist opponent has been to question his psychological balance.

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Luís Montenegro, stained with green ink launched by climate activists during the electoral campaign of the Aliança Democrástica, a coalition led by the Social Democratic Party.
Luís Montenegro, stained with green ink launched by climate activists during the electoral campaign of the Aliança Democrástica, a coalition led by the Social Democratic Party. ANDRE KOOSTERS (EFE)

Pedro Nuno Santos had to lead the socialist project in low times. In December he was elected leader in internal primaries under the shock of the unexpected resignation of António Costa and, in three months, he has had to put together a candidacy and a paradoxical project: vindicate the legacy of Costa, who continues to enjoy great popularity in Portugal, while acknowledging the mistakes made. In recent days he has focused on securing the vote of pensioners, a great socialist fishing ground, and women, remembering the rights they won with his party. He also had a difficult moment when an attendee at an election event tried to place a Bible on his head. Pedro Nuno Santos accepted him well and offered him to speak at the end of the speech.

Along with the uncertainty about the winner, another question arises about governability. Montenegro has drawn two red lines for itself: it will only govern if it has the most votes and it will not admit Chega to its Executive. In practice, he represents a cordon sanitaire that would prevent the extreme right from coming to power, which will consolidate its electoral space as a third force according to the polls. Montenegro has announced that he is willing to agree with the Liberal Initiative (IL), a party with an ultra-liberal economic program without Chega’s outbursts.

Their viability will depend on whether together they add up to more than the left bloc, where there are three minority parties willing to negotiate with the PS. Pedro Nuno Santos, in addition, was one of the leaders of the left alliance that allowed António Costa to come to power with a motion of censure in 2015, supported by the Bloco de Esquerda and the Portuguese Communist Party.

André Ventura, leader of the far-right Chega party, at an event in Lisbon on the last day of the campaign.
André Ventura, leader of the far-right Chega party, at an event in Lisbon on the last day of the campaign. MIGUEL A. LOPES (EFE)

André Ventura, the former PSD activist who founded Chega in 2019, goes to the polls with good prospects. In just five years he consolidated himself as the third force in the Assembly of the Republic and the expectation is that he will expand his parliamentary group. Some polls give him three times as many deputies (he had 12 in this legislature), although in the last week of the campaign his support began to decrease. Following the manual of right-wing populism, Ventura has questioned the cleanliness of the elections and has directed insults at all of his rivals, including Luís Montenegro, with whom he wants to make an agreement and whom he called a “useful fool.”

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