Portugal’s early general
election could push the country in one of two very different directions. It could
create greater national stability, or it could cause long-term political chaos.
The minority centre -left
Socialist Party (PS) has been able to govern remarkably well since 2015, but the
surprisingly durable alliance with the far-left has been finally shattered.
When the alliance and parliament collapsed with the rejection by the Bloco de
Esquerda (BE) and the Communist Party (PCP) of the draft budget bill for 2022, President
of the Republic, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, was obliged to call for the snap
election two years early. It will be held on January 30 next year.
Prime Minister António
expressed determination to lead the Socialists to a “reinforced, stable and
lasting majority”. He
will be preparing for the election boosted by indications that his party has
increased its popular support since the last general election in 2019.
Also encouraging will be the fact that Portugal's COVID-19 total vaccination rate at 87% is one of the highest in the world. It is conceivable that the Socialists could gain enough extra votes to establish a majority government.
The far-left have been
shrinking in popularity and their budget rejection may have been somewhat
suicidal in that they will no longer have the same influence in national
Portuguese Social Democratic Party (PSD) and the much smaller CDS People’s
Party are going through a period of disarray. The far-right Chega, formed just
three years ago, is attracting more public support, but is still a long way
behind the Socialists even though it could finish third in the January
A recent opinion poll put
the public support for the PS at 38.5%, the
PSD at 24.2%, the BE at 8.8%, Chega at 7.7% and the Communists at 4.6%.
The PAN “greens” and others are lower down.
In calling for the snap
election, the first since democracy was established by the revolution in 1974,
President de Sousa said, “in moments like this we need to find a solution
without fear and without making a drama.” Many in Portugal’s population of 10.3
million are very worried that the January vote may lead to a political mess
with no majority government or even some form of workable alliance.
The political crisis comes
at a particularly vulnerable time as Portugal tries to emerge from the pandemic
and focus the €45 billion in aid granted by the European Union on helping
return to economic stability. A new
budget bill may not be presented before next April and whether it will be
rejected again is anyone’s guess.
Confidence expressed by
Portugal’s ministry of finance that growth in GDP will exceed the EU average in
the coming years is now questionable. The hopeful expectation was that such
growth would allow the level of well-being for Portuguese citizens to converge
with that of people elsewhere in the EU.
While the PS minority
government has been a staunch supporter of the EU, the far-right surge in
Portugal will be viewed in Brussels with the concerns it has about the boom in
nationalism in many other member states, including the Balkans, Sweden, Italy, Germany
The next couple of
months could indeed see much political drama and fear.