By Thomas Judge
SUNDAY’S election in Portugal has seen the traditional centre-left Socialist Party maintain power with an outright majority.
The results come as a surprise as most opinion polls before the final vote showed a narrowing lead, with the party on top but an outright majority looking unlikely.
The party secured an impressive 41.7 per cent of the vote, up by 5.4 per cent, and gained nine seats for a majority of one.
This almost all came at the expense of the countries more left-wing parties, with The Left Bloc’s share down by 5 per cent, returning just five representatives, and Communist Party down by 1.9 per cent, returning six.
In recent governments, the Socialist Party, led by António Costa, has been praised for reversing harsh austerity measures and recovering the Portuguese economy.
Before the election, Costa governed with a minority in parliament and relied on the further left parties to pass budgets and legislation. When arguments erupted last year, opposition forces united in voting down the budget, and a snap election ensued.
The election took place during a significant spike in cases, with a large proportion of the country said to be isolating, but they were allowed to leave home to vote.
This decision potentially led to higher turnout and a boost for the Socialist Party, whose vaccine rollout, which like most nations experiencing a spike as seen hospitalisations and deaths stay low despite high infection rates, has been praised.
On the other side of the political spectrum, the traditional centre-right party, the Social Democratic Party, remained fairly level to their previous result, gaining just 1.5 per cent off the share but losing three seats.
However, the more extreme right parties, most notably Chega, gained ground. Chega gained 5.9 per cent of the vote share, the biggest individual swing of the night, and went from just one seat to 12. The libertarian Liberal Initiative also gained 3.7 per cent of the vote share and went from one to eight seats.
While most of Europe saw nationalist parties gain significant ground in this previous decade – which has faltered in many countries since – Portugal and Spain avoided this for some time.
But with Chega making ground and Vox solidifying as an electoral force in Spain, the prospects of a nationalist reckoning on the Iberian peninsular some time down the line aren’t getting smaller.
The Socialist Party’s victory comes in the wake of many European countries having seen shifts leftwards as the centre-left parties see recovery after years in decline.
However, the centre-left party regained power in Spain and Portugal by forming agreements with parties to their left. They then gained control outright when enacting some of their policies or taking them on in their own manifestos.
Norway’s election last year saw the left regain control despite a loss of vote share for the centre-left party, with the more left-wing parties gaining seats.
Meanwhile, in Germany, the SPD topped the vote share, but with just 25.7 per cent of the vote, the centre-left vote is very much split between themselves and the Greens. So while we are seeing a trend of centre-left recovery across Europe, the picture of more complicated than an individual election.
Although Costa now has an outright majority, he said: “It doesn’t mean to govern alone.”
Indicating both that with such a slim margin of error, he may still seek broader consensus with natural allies in parliament and the fact that he will govern for all of Portugal, not just those who voted for his party.
The new Portuguese government is now tasked with the post-pandemic recovery and deciding how the country spends the 16 Billion Euro recovery fund available from the EU.
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