With polls indicating a technical tie between the two largest political parties, Portugal goes to the polls this Sunday (30) to choose the new composition of Parliament, which, in turn, will appoint the prime minister.
Socialist António Costa, prime minister since November 2015 and a virtual candidate to remain in office, has seen his favoritism progressively diminish in recent weeks with the growth of the main opposition party, the center-right PSD (Social Democratic Party).
Over the course of the week, two polls indicated the PSD was slightly ahead of the PS. On Friday (28), however, two other surveys projected the socialists back to the leadership. In all cases, the advantage was less than the survey’s margin of error, confirming the technical tie scenario.
One of those responsible for this uncertainty in the Portuguese future is the social democratic leader, deputy Rui Rio, who has been attracting votes with a centrist and moderation speech. The real possibility of reaching the post of premier contrasts with the situation in which he found himself in November.
At the time, when the Council of State approved the dissolution of Parliament and the call for early elections, the politician’s position was contested within his own party and appeared more than ten percentage points behind the Socialists in the polls.
“This is a competitive election, with great uncertainty and in which no one is guaranteed the result. I don’t risk results”, says political scientist Marina Costa Lobo, a researcher at the Institute of Social Sciences at the University of Lisbon and coordinator of a behavioral project of the Portuguese vote.
This is also because being the most voted does not guarantee a party in Portugal the primacy of appointing the prime minister: post-election political arrangements can make other options viable. This is what happened to António Costa himself in 2015, when the PSD (in coalition with the CDS-PP) took the lead in the election, but saw the socialists make the prime minister.
Costa was raised to the position thanks to a coalition that united the traditionally divided Portuguese left. The arrangement, which featured the Portuguese Communist Party and the Bloco de Esquerda, was given the pejorative nickname of contraption due to its apparent fragility. Contrary to initial predictions, the contraption survived the four years of the legislature.
After the 2019 elections, however, with a reinforced bench (108 out of 230 deputies), the socialists abandoned the arrangement, choosing to negotiate individually in the votes. The lack of a formal agreement with the former partners ended up hampering governability, and the definitive rupture took place last October, when the Left Bloc and the Communist Party voted against the 2022 Budget. President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa chose to anticipate a new claim.
In the opinion of political scientist António Costa Pinto, coordinator of the Institute of Social Sciences at the University of Lisbon, polls indicate that part of the left-wing electorate was not satisfied with the decision that ended up undoing the contraption for good.
“The voters of the Communist Party, the Left Bloc and the Socialist Party liked these parliamentary agreements. Apparently, the BE will be punished by the electorate of this political spectrum, but this is not enough to make the Socialist Party grow electorally”, he said in an interview. this week.
Rui Rio’s moderate stance also raises the possibility of an arrangement between the PS and the PSD. In the last legislature, by the way, the Social Democrats voted together with the government on almost two-thirds of the Executive’s proposals.
“It is a possibility that cannot be ruled out,” says Costa Lobo, who stresses that both socialists and social democrats must first try to form alliances within their own political spectrum. “If the PSD wins, but with a left-wing majority in Parliament, it will try to entice the PS to have support. And vice versa. This is not excluded, because Rui Rio is the most left-wing PSD leader in recent times.”
Although the two biggest parties concentrate more than 60% of the voting intentions, the arrangements for the formation of the new government – and its legislative support – will depend directly on the performance of the smaller parties. There are four that appear tangled up in the dispute for the position of third political force in the country, but none of them reach 10% of voting intentions.
In addition to the Bloco de Esquerda, which holds this post today, and the PCP, two parties that debuted in Parliament in 2019 and now have only one deputy each are in the running: Iniciativa Liberal and Chega, from the far right. More to the right than the PSD, both should present a significant increase in representation in the next legislature, according to analysts.
For André Azevedo Alves, professor at the Institute of Political Studies at the Catholic University of Portugal, the fragmentation of the vote in this spectrum is another factor that can bring additional difficulties to the formation of an eventual government by the PSD. “If these results are confirmed, we will have a fragmentation of the vote on the right that previously only happened more on the left in Portugal”, he says.
In this sense, the electoral performance of the radical right with Chega would be the most problematic point. Presenting itself as an anti-system, the party piles up controversial proposals, so to speak, such as the return of the death penalty and the chemical castration of pedophiles. He also lived with members linked to neo-Nazi organizations and is often accused of discriminatory speech against Roma communities.
Leader of the acronym and its only parliamentary representative today, deputy André Ventura has already been convicted of “offenses to the right to honor” after having called the members of a black family and resident of a housing project as bandits, during a debate on TV. . The decision was confirmed in December by the Portuguese Supreme Court of Justice. The populist was third in the presidential election a year ago, with 11.9% of the vote.
Although Rui Rio says he does not intend to count on Chega to take power, this is a scenario that is not ruled out by most analysts. At the end of 2020, the PSD had the support of the ultra-right party to take over the government of the autonomous region of the Azores, interrupting more than two decades of socialist leadership in the archipelago.
Abstention in Portugal, where voting is not mandatory, is also a point of attention highlighted by political scientists. Although this is the third national election since the beginning of the pandemic, it comes at a time of record Covid-19 cases, linked to the advancement of the omicron variant.
With the high vaccination coverage —almost 90% of the population has the complete immunization schedule—, the number of deaths and hospitalizations has not followed the increase in cases. Even so, in the face of the scenario of thousands of Portuguese in isolation, the government released the vote of infected people, always wearing a mask and with distance, but advised them to vote at a specific time: between 18:00 and 19:00. Those who are sick should also avoid using public transport to get to polling places.