Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Portugal election: leader of winning centre-right party calls on rivals not to stand in his way

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The leader of Portugal’s centre-right Democratic Alliance, which won the narrowest of victories over its socialist rivals in Sunday’s snap general election, has called on leftwing and far-right parties not to stand in his way as he attempts to form a minority government.

The Democratic Alliance – an electoral platform made up of the large Social Democratic party (PSD) and two smaller conservative parties – finished first in the election, winning 79 seats in the 230-seat assembly.

The Socialist party (PS), which has governed Portugal for the past eight years, came second with 77 seats, while the far-right Chega party enjoyed a surge in support and quadrupled its seat count from 12 to 48 to finish third.

As his victory was confirmed, Luís Montenegro, the leader of the PSD, which heads the Democratic Alliance, said the Portuguese people had spoken and demanded “a change of government and of policies”.

Addressing supporters early on Monday morning, he added: “My expectation is that PS and Chega will not form a negative alliance to prevent the government that the Portuguese wanted.”

He also said that while he did not expect the Socialists to “adhere to our government’s proposals”, he hoped they would “respect the will of the Portuguese people”.

Montenegro is now waiting for Portugal’s president, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, to formally invite him to try to form a government. The numbers, however, are not in the PSD’s favour.

Montenegro has repeatedly ruled out any deals with Chega, which is keen to extract maximum leverage from its strong result on Sunday. During the campaign, he made it clear there would be no agreement with the far-right party because of what he termed the “often xenophobic, racist, populist and excessively demagogic” views of its leader, André Ventura. But the PSD leader is expected to come under significant pressure from some within his party to reach a deal with Chega in order to guarantee a centre-right government.

Ruling out any pacts with Chega means the Democratic Alliance’s only other allies would be the small, centre-right Liberal Initiative party, which won eight seats. But even that partnership would yield only 87 seats in total – far short of an assembly majority of 116 seats. The arithmetic means that any resultant centre-right minority government would be heavily dependent on Chega’s votes to get its legislation through parliament.

Montenegro said he was fully aware that “on many occasions the implementation of the government’s programme will have to go through political dialogue in the assembly of the republic”, and asked all political parties to assume their responsibilities, “starting with the PS”.

However, Ventura – a former football pundit who left the PSD to found Chega five years ago – is still pushing for a role in government.

“Chega asked to become the centrepiece of the political system and it achieved that result,” Ventura said late on Sunday. “We want to give Portugal a stable government.”

Sunday’s results prompted European centre-right politicians to hail Montenegro’s victory and far-right leaders to congratulate Ventura.

Manfred Weber, the leader of the conservative European People’s party in the European parliament, said voters had chosen Montenegro “because he can lead the change Portugal needs, towards a better future”.

Alberto Núñez Feijóo, the leader of Spain’s conservative People’s party – which has joined forces with the far-right Vox party to run five Spanish regions, and which had hoped a national coalition with Vox would help topple Spain’s socialists last year – also congratulated Montenegro.

“I’m delighted to see our Portuguese brothers have chosen the only credible project for change in Portugal,” he said.

Jordan Bardella, ​the president of France’s National Rally, ​hailed Chega’s “great breakthrough”, saying the Portuguese people were “defend​ing their identity and their prosperity, and sweep​ing away the corrupt socialists.”

​In Hungary, Ádám Samu Balázs, ​the head of the international secretariat for Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz party, also called Chega’s results a “great breakthrough”.​ He added: “The fight of our friend and ally ​André Ventura against the globalist left and for the protection ​of national sovereignty and the defence of ​Europe is exemplary.​”

The early general election – Portugal’s second in three years – was triggered after the socialist prime minister, António Costa, resigned in November after an investigation was launched into alleged illegalities in his administration’s handling of large green investment projects.

Costa – who had been in office since 2015 and won a surprise absolute majority in the 2022 general election – has not been accused of any crime. He said that while his conscience was clear, he felt he had no choice but to step down because the “duties of prime minister are not compatible with any suspicion of my integrity”.

He also announced he would not be running for prime minister in the election, leaving the Socialist party in the hands of Pedro Nuno Santos, a former infrastructure minister from the left of the party.

Santos acknowledged his party’s defeat early on Monday, saying: “We will be the opposition, we will renovate the party and we will seek to win back the Portuguese who are dissatisfied with the PS.”

The Socialists’ hope that the threat of the far right moving closer to government would rally centrist voters as it did in 2022 did not pay off the second time around. Despite the party’s strong economic record in office, it has been tarnished by a string of corruption scandals in recent years.

Widespread dissatisfaction with Portugal’s mainstream left and right parties – coupled with a housing crisis, stressed public services and low wages – has driven many voters to Chega, which campaigned on a promise to “clean up” Portugal.

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