God has put me on this path

 In News

In April 2019 a relatively obscure lawyer and academic in international circles, André Ventura, formed the ‘Chega!’ Party. He defines it as economically liberal, culturally nationalist and conservative in social beliefs and customs. The controversial lawyer addressed the International Club of Portugal on Wednesday.

Is he a nationalist? Probably, in that he admits he loves his country and would be prepared to die for it.
Is he a populist? He says not, but clearly appeals to the sea of forgotten people in Portugal who are “sick and tired” of a national health service that doesn’t work, an education system that is falling apart at the seams and a political establishment in Portugal that he says is basically a sinecure-driven gravy train for the ‘boys’.
André Ventura is the leader of a new party called ‘Chega!’ which translates into ‘Enough!’ but also means ‘Arrive’. Most people overseas, apart from Spanish readers of El País probably have ever heard of him, although he seems to be well viewed by Jair Bolsonaro, that controversial Brazilian president that shares some of his more conservative views.
So what are his views? At a lunch on Wednesday organised by the International Club of Portugal which has consistently stated its policy of being non-party affiliated, he summarised some of them – some reasonable on the face of it, others perhaps not so.
Ventura wants to create a new political system because the existing one has failed. “A different political project without being afraid of showing the differences” but also one that is “very Portuguese in essence and outlook.”
At a time when the polls suggest that Chega! Has quadrupled its support from potential voters (to 5%) – around 66,454 voted for his party in the elections, 22,000 in Lisbon alone – Ventura told El Pais that he was “confident that his party would grow” over the coming years. Chega’s one-man MP in parliament — Ventura himself — got 1.3% of the votes in Portugal’s October elections.
But it’s not the general election he’s aiming at. André Venture is aiming for the stars and believes he might become President of Portugal by 2026 and has already confirmed his readiness to stand for Bélem.
“It is a question of time, he said, in four years there will be a candidate from Chega! standing in the presidential elections, in eight years we will be the largest party in the country. People are sick of politicians that promise much but deliver little” hew said in the El Pais interview.
What he says is possible. After all, Adolf Hitler won the Chancellorship in Germany in 1933 when a few years before he and his party was considered an object of ridicule by mainstream voters. Not that this publication is making any kind of comparisons but then desperate times bring extraordinary situations and ‘saviours’.
After all, who during the Barrack Obama presidency would have imagined that a TV celebrity with a career littered with failed property projects and undeclared taxes behind him would have made it to the White House?
Ventura admits that he is not “always welcomed with kindness” wherever he goes in Portugal but he does echo many of the entrenched concerns that the Portuguese voters, over 50% of which abstained in the last elections, have and is admirably tapping into those fears, angers, frustrations and concerns.
“We are for the common people” he says, adding that it is why the workers at the car plant at Autoeuropa welcomed him with open arms. Presumably the 6000 odd workers at the car plant are representative of the “common people” and are happy to be seen as the “common people” by the academic and legal classes he hails from.
He is against abortion, but does not think it useful to turn back the clock and criminalise it. Ventura also finds bullfighting distasteful, yet has not signalled an intention to support increasing VAT from 6% to 23% on the bullfighting micro-economy in order to make life difficult for the deeply embedded cultural sport.
He has called for a “reduction in the Islamist presence in the European Union” and some would agree with him, but that’s easy to say in a country that has a relatively small muslim population.
Ventura also says he “vehemently rejects” support from the extreme right but in that same year of 2017 in which he made these affirmations he made various controversial statements about gypsies living in Loures.
“I am not a destructive radical” he said at the ICPT lunch on Wednesday. I don’t think all that has happened since the April 74 Revolution was all bad or all good either, but this political system is not giving us answers and solutions. It isn’t working for the National Health Service (SNS), the economy, for education, the country, for transparency or serving the people or the international policy strategies of the country. If we don’t make these changes then people will do it in a more violent way that will cost us more” he warned.
André Ventura says he has a duty to “warn the Portuguese now to what is happening before it is too late”. He says Portugal’s political elite is locked in a bubble and isn’t listening to the people. They need to wake up. Half of the people didn’t even vote. They (the politicians) are not looking at the country as it really is. For some, the installed establishment works for them and they don’t want it to change” he said.
Venture slammed what he called “political correctness.” “We can’t say the word ‘gypsies’, we can’t say what we know to be true — that half the country is paying the IRS for the other half! What country are we building?”
On health and education he said that the presence of the State needs to be reduced. Ventura added that throwing money at the SNS and education would not solve their problems without knowing who and what it was for and how it would be spent. “These things need to be restructured and redesigned. We don’t want to get rid of the State, we want a New State. The term New State (Estado Novo) would not have been lost on those who remember living in the Estado Novo of dictator António Salazar in the 1930s, 40s, 50s and 60s.
Ventura also criticised the constitution which he says, “doesn’t allow for anything to be changed” but stopped short of comparing the constitution to the stone commandments of Moses which were brought down from the mountains.
“A country must learn from its errors. We have learnt nothing from the last decades. We have shut ourselves away” he said.
The politician shrugs off harsh reactions and criticisms to his policies and rhetoric. “My mother tells me I was the worst thing on TV this week, but a week in politics passes and next week another person will be the butt of attacks” he joked.
“We are different, and this has made us grow as a party, as a common party and not one of elites. A party for people who are suffering from the current system” he told El Pais.
It is a party which states it is not far-right but anti the system, that thinks the role of the President of the Republic is confined to “cutting ribbons”; he wants a presidential system more like France which, he says, is more democratic, he wants a party which aims to respond to social problems such as law and order, crime and immigration* (*actually, this is not a problem right now for Portugal, quite the contrary).
The Chega! Leader criticises those in the Portuguese Parliament who slam him for being far-right, he says the decision for fortnightly parliamentary debates to be reduced to monthly debates as a measure which will “push people away from politics”. “The people aren’t stupid, yet the politicians won’t understand that until the day the system implodes, and if Democracy dies then they will be its first victims” he said.