ANDRE Ventura’s strong showing in last month’s Portuguese presidential election “represents a rapid and very substantial growth for the radical right”, an expert has said.
On the surface of it, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa comfortably swept the election to become President of the Republic.
But look down the ballot, and almost 12 per cent of the Portuguese electorate voted for Chega President Andre Ventura.
The 38-year-old, who has been condemned for his views on the Roma community and says he wants a “reduction in Islamic migration”, appeared to break through to voters in a historically liberal nation.
Mariana Mendes, an expert on Portuguese politics at TU Dresden, said, with Chega only achieving 1.3 per cent of the vote in 2019, the result showed the right-wing candidate is connecting with voters.
She told Redaction Politics: “It represents a rapid and very substantial growth for the radical right, which is remarkable in a country that had been immune to such trends until very recently.
“This indicates several things. The first is that there is a substantial share of the electorate that identifies with his style and message.
“I believe that a significant portion of these are attracted above all by his anti-establishment stance. In Portugal, levels of trust in politics/ politicians are very low and there is a widespread perception that corruption is endemic.
“The second is that there is a reconfiguration of the right-wing space going on. Polls indicate that CDS-PP (a conservative party) is on the verge of disappearance.
“The center-right PSD is also not performing as strongly as in the past.
“What this means is that Chega’s leader is probably right when he says that, in the future, there will no right-wing parliamentary majority without Chega.”
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Naturally, this could set a dangerous precendent for Portuguese politics – one that has been seen time and again during the last decade in many former strongholds of Social Democracy.
Some experts, like Riccardo Marchi of the University of Lisbon, believe younger voters who come from traditionally Communist-voting backgrounds are attracted to his populist discourse. (Ed – The ‘Red Wall’, anyone?)
The Presidential elections, however, should be treated differently from normal Portuguese legislative polls.
Turnout last month was just 45.45 per cent, a decrease of 4.6 per cent compared to 2016.
“The Presidential elections are considered ‘second-order elections’ (by comparison to legislative ones) and thus there are little incentives for voting strategically,” Mendes told Redaction Politics.
“In this sense, the results are indeed a good predictor of the mood of Portuguese voters. This does not mean that they are a very accurate predictor of what results will look like in future legislative elections.
“This is because in the Presidential election are more ‘personal’, that is, people vote more for the candidate than the party.”
It means that de Sousa’s landslide was not necessarily down to voters believing in the PSD, but connecting to him as a candidate.
He is known combining for his “personal style of proximity” to the electorate with a responsible vibe – even being referred to as the “president of affections”.
While the Portuguese Presidential election is largely symbolic, the rise of anti-establishment populists on the right is clear – even in leftist strongholds.
Mariana Mendes is the Chair of Political Theory and History of Political Thought at Technische Universitat Dresden.
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