Portugal’s Socialists have won a big victory – but the resurgent far right is a threat

Article @ The Guardian, published 2 February 2022

Beleaguered leftwing politicians across Europe will doubtlessly be looking at last weekend’s general elections in Portugal and taking notes. In a surprise outcome, the centre-left Socialist party (PS) won a historic absolute majority, taking 117 of the 230 seats in parliament. Despite polls on the eve of the election suggesting that there would be a possible tie, the centre-right opposition party, the PSD, was routed. The political map in Portugal is now painted almost entirely red.

Portugal is something of a European outlier. Its economic recovery from the crises of the early 2010s was praised worldwide, with growth at one point exceeding the eurozone average. While most countries in Europe struggled to keep their coronavirus infections under control, it was becoming a world leader in terms of vaccinations – almost 90% of the population is double-jabbed. And, unlike other countries that elected leftwing governments in 2015, Portugal has enjoyed political stability, with the Socialists at the helm ever since.

So what did last weekend’s results tell us? On the right, there has been a splintering of affiliations between the weakened veteran PSD; the far-right Chega (meaning: Enough); and the freshly minted, pro-business Liberal Initiative (IL). For the first time in Portugal’s modern democratic history, the rightwing Christian Democrats, once the third largest party in parliament, did not return a single MP. On the left the house won big, with António Costa, the prime minister, cannibalising much of the usually more radical electorate, leaving only morsels for the likes of the Communist party and the anticapitalist Left Bloc.