Portugal suffers hung parliament in elections that see a surge in far-right populist party Chega.

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A forty year political system in Portugal dominated by two main parties — the centre-right PSD and socialist PS – may be over after elections on Sunday produced a hung parliament with a far-right protest party picking up over 18% of the votes on an anti-corruption and immigration ticket.

Although technically the Democratic Alliance (Aliança Democratica (AD) — a centre-right coalition comprising the PSD, CDS-PP and the Partido Popular Monárquico (Monarchists) — won the elections, the margin was only by just over 1%. It means that the coalition stands no chance of forming a majority government.

Led by the leader of the centre-right PSD, Luís Montenegro, AD picked up 29.49% of the votes (including Madeira), corresponding to 79 seats in parliament.

It is highly unlikely that the two main parties will cut a deal to form a government leaving the centre-right facing a minority government that will have a hard time achieving any kind of consensus for next year’s State Budge 2025 which has to be agreed in October.

The elections brought an end to the nine-year government of the Partido Socialista (PS) led by caretaker Prime Minister, António Costa who resigned in November last year over a corruption and influence peddling scandal at the heart of his government — he was investigated but never made a suspect — resulting in Sunday’s snap elections.

The PS only brought in 28.6% of the vote (1.759 million votes), a shocking fall of 542,000 votes since the comfortable victory it won at the last elections in 2022 with 47% of the votes. It now has 77 seats in parliament compared to 120 in the 2022 election.

However, the night clearly belonged to the far-right Chega party led by former football commentator André Ventura. It became the third political party in the country (18%) going from 12 MPs to 48 MPs in a Portuguese parliament with 230 seats.

With expectations of being a ‘kingmaker’ he called the election an “absolutely historic night”. “This is the night that two-party rule ended in Portugal. Chega has historically surpassed one million votes in Portugal”, he told cheering crowds.

However, despite toning down his rhetoric, it is not clear what role Chega’s leader André Ventura will have in the new government since AD’s Luís Montenegro said he would not cut a deal with Chega after labelling him racist and xenophobic on national TV.

The protest party garnered many votes in the Alentejo and Algarve – taking them from the far left Bloco de Esquerda and Portuguese Communist Party (PCP) but had a disappointing result in Portugal’s second city of Porto.

The PS lost seats in substantial towns such as Funchal (Madeira), Braga, Braganza, Porto, Aveiro, and Leiria.

The PS were neck-and-neck with the Democratic Alliance (AD) in Viana do Castelo, Vila Real, the Azores, and Viseu. In Portalegre It tied with Chega and it also tied with Chega and AD in Guarda, Santarém, Faro, Beja and Évora.

The only places where the PS won comfortably were in Lisbon, Coimbra, Castelo Branco and Setúbal.

Abstention votes, which normally stand at around 50% reached their lowest level in 30 years with a 66% turnout from an electorate tired of decades of corruption scandals and promises not delivered.

Now political commentators are saying that Portugal is facing its most fragmented parliament since the country became a democracy 50 years ago in 1974 after the 25 April Revolution.

One commentator, former PSD leader Luís Marques Mendes said there had never been an election night like it and predicted fresh elections early next year.

Admitting losing the election, the leader of the PS party, former housing and infrastructure minister Pedro Nuno Santos, said his party would lead the opposition, renew the party, and try and win back PS voters that had become disgruntled.

He said the PS would lead the opposition and would not leave the opposition to Chega and André Ventura.

“The right and AD cannot count on the PS in order to govern because we will not support them and there will be no division in the PS”, he emphasised.

The news agency Lusa reported Pedro Nuno Santos as saying: ”The time for tactics in politics with us is over” in what was widely seen as a broadside shot against former prime minister António Costa.

Pedro Nuno Santos admitted that Chega’s success in the elections could not be ignored, but stressed his disbelief that there was 18.1% of the Portuguese population who were racists and xenophobes.

“There are a lot of angry Portuguese who feel that they haven’t been represented and haven’t been given an answer to their concrete problems,” he admitted.

“We will work over the next few months, in the future, to convince and bring back with us all those who are unhappy with the political system and with the PS. Our path begins now, today,” he said, which signals a very bumpy road ahead for AD in its current form, without having announced any kind of ‘partnership agreements’ to bolster numbers.”

For his part, António Costa admitted: “We are all aware that these elections took place after two years of an inflationary crisis such as the country had not seen for 30 years, which was hard on families and accompanied by a brutal rise in interest rates — and our ability to respond was clearly not enough. It created a general malaise.”

António Costa then gave his opinion as to why Chega is now the third main political force in Portugal saying: “These elections took place in a climate of alarm, of unresolved judicial doubts, which creates a breeding ground for populism. The next few months, with serenity and time, will allow us to determine what the rise of Chega has to do with a structural vote — and if it represents a fundamental change in Portuguese society — and what it has to do with a protest vote in the face of a situation that we hope will quickly be clarified.”

AD Leader Luís Montenegro said he believed that Portuguese President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa would hand him the reigns of power.

“I always said winning the elections would mean having one vote more than any other candidate, and only in those circumstances would I accept to be prime minister”, he said on Sunday night.

However, the final votes have not yet come in from the emigrant vote which will trickle in over the course of this week.

Photo: EPA (LUSA) – André Ventura leader of far-right protest party Chega on realising his party had become the third political force in Portugal.