The result exceeded expectation: the socialist party won the legislative elections held on Sunday, January 30th, in Portugal. Even though it was announced to be in close competition with the center-right, Partido Socialista (PS) managed to obtain the absolute majority of seats. Unlike the previous elections of 2019, PS can now do without a coalition with the radical Left. The fragility of the previous coalition had contributed to the government being outvoted on the budget vote in October 2021, and had forced the organization of early legislative elections.
This is an apparent success for the outgoing head of government, António Costa, who won 41.7% of the vote and 117 seats, not counting the votes of Portuguese abroad. His government will therefore be able to continue in office. The Portuguese people have opted for political stability in a period of crisis.
The Partido Social Democrata (PSD), the Social Democratic Party, which was Costa’s main opponent, won 29.3% of the vote and 71 seats. PSD leader Rui Rio announced that he would step down as leader of his party if the socialists achieved an absolute majority.
As for the other political forces, the liberals who entered Parliament for the first time in 2019 continue to grow with 8 seats. Yet, the left-wing formations that precipitated the fall of the Costa government with the rejection of the budget have been heavily sanctioned.
The real surprise of the election is the significant breakthrough of the far-right Chega party, which went from a single seat to 12 seats, with 7.15% of the vote. This substantial gain allows them to build a new parliamentary group.
The Chega party’s president, André Ventura, who came from the PSD, welcomed the victory as encouragement for a country that had been without a right-wing nationalist party for a very long time, because of its Salazarist past. The Chega party is now the third political force in the country, behind the Socialists and the centre-right PSD. It intends to be the main opposition to the Costa government.
The positioning of the Chega party is unique in the panorama of the European right. It must reckon with the legacy of Salazar’s Portugal, which requires some skill in order to deflect attention away from an uncomfortable past that remains complicated to evoke for the Portuguese. The vice-president of the party, António Tânger, wants to give the impression of a firm but balanced position on immigration, rejecting idle immigration from Bangladesh or Pakistan but accepting work immigration from Brazilians or North Africans. According to him, the problems posed by immigration are economical and cultural, not religious. If the party displays its opposition to abortion, for instance, it is above all in the name of the defense of the family. On the economic level, the party defends liberal positions.
At the international level, Chega has links with Marine Le Pen in France and Matteo Salvini in Italy; Chega is part of the Identity and Democracy (ID) group in the European Parliament—a group which also includes the French Rassemblement national (RN), the Italian Lega, Spanish VOX, and Germany’s Alternative für Deutschland (AfD).
The socialist António Costa is assured of an absolute majority and now has the task of implementing the investment plan financed by European aid for €16 billion.