Friday, March 29, 2024

Problems loom for the new parliament


It seems clear that instability looms for the centre-right Democratic Alliance (AD), which will try to rule in the new Portuguese government with a very small majority.

The government’s agenda is to be debated in parliament on the 11th and 12th April. This has been announced by the assembly speaker, Pedro Aguiar Branco, who was chosen this week, but only after three failed voting sessions when the 230 members elected on March 10 manage to agree.

The AD alliance led by the Portuguese Socialist Party (PSD) with its 80 seats, and the Socialist Party (PS) with 78,  eventually compromised by agreeing to a rotating speaker arrangement in which the PSD’s Sr Branco will be in office for two years and then replaced by a PS speaker.

The far-right Chega party, which quadrupled its seats since the last parliament to 50, has already been showing opposition that could prove to be paralysing for the two mainstream parties. Founder and leader of Chega, Andre Ventura, has been seeking a long-term deal with the AD, but the AD Prime Minister Luis Montenegro, has repeatedly rejected any such cooperation in return for far-right support.   

The new parliament faces massive challenges to bring stability to Portugal, which is regarded as Europe’s poorest nation despite strong growth since 2015 under repeated PS governments. The AD, perhaps with PS support, will have to try and improve low wage levels, the ongoing housing crisis, severe problems within the national health service, and the country’s ever-present corruption activities.

The new parliament is likely to be the most fragmented since the Carnation Revolution of 25th April 1974 when the coup by left-leaning military officers ended more than 40 years of dictatorship. The revolution turned Portugal’s focus from its colonial wars and fading worldwide empire to joining the many democracies on the European continent.  

Portugal now remains a peaceful country and a dedicated member of the European Union. It is not surprising, even though it has shocked many socialists, that the Chega (Enough) party has followed similar success among populist groups in several other European countries including Germany, Italy, Sweden, Poland and Spain, instigated among other things by the failure to properly control the influx of refugees.  

Chega appeals to many younger voters in Portugal as well as some of the older ones who have fond memories of the pre-revolution Salazar dictatorship days. They are dissatisfied with mainstream politicians and want the sort of basic changes that Andre Ventura, 41, is espousing.

He has been deeply critical of things ranging from road tolls to political cronyism, “50 years of corruption” and “50 years of taxes to support parasites.” He has called his party “the last hope.”

Let’s see.    

Thursday, March 21, 2024

Portugal election: counting completed

Prime Minister Montenegro

The more than 1.5 million Portuguese registered voters living abroad had the final say in the outcome of the March 10 parliamentary election.

The overall tally, concluded this week, showed 28.84% for the centre-right Democratic Alliance (AD) and 28% for the centre-left Socialist Party (PS).  The turnout was 59.8%.

With the counting finished, President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa  has appointed Luis Montenegro, leader of the Democratic Alliance as prime minister and asked him to form a new government.  The Democratic Alliance consists of the Portuguese Democratic Party (PSD) and two smaller parties.

The surge in voting for the far-right Chega party means it will play an unprecedented third-place role in the forthcoming National Assembly. Of the 230 seats, a majority would require 116. The DA secured 80, the PS 78, and Chega 50. 

According to data published by the Statista research organisation, roughly 65,000 Portuguese registered voters live in the United States and 57,000 in Canada. These are significant numbers compared with most in Portugal’s worldwide diaspora, but  far fewer than in France (396,000), Brazil  (259,000), the United Kingdom (170,000), and Switzerland (150,300).

The preferred option within the total of 10.9 million registered voters at home and abroad would have been a right-wing coalition government, but Montenegro has dismissed any notion of close collaboration with Chega.  A left-wing coalition was the second favourite, with an AD- PS coalition trailing well behind.

While a million voters are delighted that Chega quadrupled its seats in the Assembly since the 2022 election, this is causing grave concern among centrist and left-wing voters and parliamentarians.

The concern hinges on allegations - right or wrong - that Chega’s founder, Andre Ventura, is xenophobic and a racist. In the past he has harshly criticised the 50,000 Roma and 65,000 Muslim communities in Portugal .

Evilana Dias,  a board member with Portugal’s Association of African Descendants has long worked to quell racism in Portugal, and  has told Ashifa Kassam, European affairs correspondent  for the Guardian newspaper: “We had no idea that there were so many racists in Portugal. It’s like they were hidden.”

Others say that Chega’s remarkable gain is due to decades of socio-economic failure under the centrist governments. An Algarve voter, probably typical of many who voted for Chega, told us: “I am most certainly not a racist. I voted for Chega because Andre Ventura is a very strong, honest leader who is determined to stop corruption and stabilise the many issues that have been so badly mishandled in this country for years. We desperately need positive change and stability with more support for the police, doctors and nurses among others. Only Ventura and Chega can deliver that.”  

Apart from concerns over deteriorating living standards, public opinion polls all showed a lack of enthusiasm for both the new leader of the PS, Pedro Nuno Santos, and his centre-right counterpart.  Under Ventura, the far-right has quadrupled the number of its seats since the last election in 2022. Portuguese citizens living abroad will be very familiar with far-right parties as they have a powerful say in European democracies, including France, Germany, Italy, Hungary and Spain.



Monday, March 11, 2024

Election result: slim centre-right win

This was Portugal’s most hotly contested legislative election since the ‘Carnation Revolution’ 50 years ago.

The outcome has been a slim victory for the centre-right Democratic Alliance over the incumbent centre-left Socialist Party. Both of the main centrist parties will likely jockey with small parties to gain the most seats in parliament, but the far-right made such gains to finish third that it will provide much stronger opposition than ever before. 

A low voter turnout had been expected because of dissatisfaction with politicians in general, but it was higher than the 45% registered for the last election in 2022.  The much respected former Prime Minister Antonio Costa said “it is fundamental that everyone votes.” President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa also urged all eligible citizens to vote. By noon on Sunday, four hours after the polling stations opened, a quarter of the electorate had done so.  Even by 4 pm well over 50% had been to the ballot boxes.

The polls closed at 7pm on the mainland and an hour later in the Azores archipelago.  With the counting all but concluded, these were the main results:

PSD (AD) – 29.8%

PS – 28.7%

Chega – 18.2%

The key players: Luis Montenegro will be prime minister as leader of the Portuguese Democratic Party (PSD) supported by smaller parties in the Democratic Alliance (AD).

Pedro Nuno Santos of the Socialist Party (PS) has succeeded Antonio Costa who had been prime minister since 2015 with a strong majority before his resignation last November.

Andre Ventura, a former football pundit, has led the far-right Chega (Enough) party since its foundation five years ago. He will be a formidable foe to the centrists who claim he is xenophobic, racist and demagogic.

The challenges facing the new government include low wages, the deterioration in the national health system, the housing shortage and corruption.  It was an influence- peddling investigation that brought down the Socialist government in November and obliged President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa to call for this snap election.

While plenty of problems are facing the new administration, Portugal will remain one of the most peaceful countries in the world, although probably the poorest in Europe amid the current global financial crisis.

The outcome of Portugal’s latest election will be viewed with considerable interest within the European Union, which is to hold its own parliamentary election in June. The current EU parliament will be hoping for a majority of moderate candidates, but there have been many shifts to far-right populist parties similar to Chega.