The Portuguese election is too close to be called with the far right on the rise

  • Written by Paul Kirby in London and Alison Roberts in Lisbon
  • BBC News

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As the polls became clear, Luis Montenegro's supporters chanted “Portugal, Portugal” when his face appeared on television.

Portugal's two main parties competed on Sunday evening, with most votes from the election counted and there was little chance of forming a majority government.

Only the far-right Chega party was able to achieve clear success, winning more than 40 seats and 1 million votes.

Opinion polls had given the center right a narrow victory, after eight years of socialist rule.

But as the results trickled in, it became clear that they were very close to predicting.

Ten million Portuguese had the chance to cast their votes in early elections on Sunday, four months after Socialist Prime Minister António Costa resigned amid allegations of corruption, although he was never named as a suspect.

It was Costa who warned Portuguese television viewers late on Sunday night that they could be heading towards a “potential tie” between the Socialists and the centre-right Democratic Alliance.

The final result may depend on four external seats, whether in Europe or outside it.

Former center-right leader Luis Márquez Méndez said there had never been an election night like this before: “I think we will have new elections early next year.”

Neither major party came close to a majority in the 230-seat parliament, and with 98% of the votes counted, the Democratic Alliance got 29.6%, narrowly ahead of the Socialists who got 28.7%.

It all looked much better for centre-right leader Luis Montenegro, when opinion polls gave him a narrow but clear victory. Supporters chanted “Portugal, Portugal” as his face appeared on television, and the end of eight years of socialist rule appeared to be in sight.

What has become clear is that the far-right Chiga (Enough) party has strengthened its attempt to become the third force in Portuguese politics.

The party of former football expert Andre Ventura received about 18% of the votes, after a campaign focused on corruption and immigration. A former member of the centre-right council, he founded Chega just five years ago, and in the last election in 2022 won 12 seats.

Chiga pinned his hopes on becoming a kingmaker, and the party hailed the “absolutely historic” night.

The party made significant gains, especially in the south, including the Algarve. It performed less well in the northern port city of Porto.

The turnout was scheduled to be the highest in years, at about 65%, even though the last elections were only two years ago.

The center right was not without its own problems. The Social Democratic Party, which dominates the Democratic Alliance, has been implicated in a regional scandal in Madeira.

The Chiga leader said the result marked the end of an era dominated by two single parties, and that his party was ready to help build the next government.

But so far, the head of the centre-right coalition, Luis Montenegro, has said he will have nothing to do with it. He condemned Mr. Ventura, a former party colleague, as a xenophobe and a racist.

It is also clear that the two major parties will find sufficient common ground to form a government.

Whoever emerges victorious will only be able to form a minority government. This will become very difficult in October when Parliament must approve next year's budget.

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Andre Ventura sets his sights on Chiga's participation in a right-wing government

Socialist Finance Minister Fernando Medina said Chiga's success was “unfortunate” and warned of a “very fragile and unstable” political picture.

After years of economic gloom, the Socialists can claim to have returned Portugal to growth of 2.3% last year, although the outlook for 2024 is less rosy.

However, salaries are low and rents are rising, leading to increasing dissatisfaction with the center-left.

Former presidential candidate Ana Gomez noted that many voters in the Algarve may have supported Chiga because the government failed to respond to people's problems such as rising prices and reduced water supplies.

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