Center-left surges in Portugal

By Sebastian Aguilar, Staff Writer

A surprise victory for Portugal’s center-left Socialist Party (PS) over the center-right Social Democratic Party (PSD) gave the Socialists a majority in the Portuguese parliament. This is only the second time in modern Portuguese history that a party has won an outright majority in parliament.

In December 2021, Prime Minister and Socialist Party leader António Costa dissolved parliament and called for elections. Costa called elections after the coalition partners of PS — the Left Bloc and the Portuguese Communist Party — would not agree to the Socialists’ budget proposal. 

The coalition was also divided on how to use the European Union’s COVID-19 recovery funds. 

The election was a gamble for the two far-left parties, whose leaders believed that they would be able to gain more of a foothold in the snap election. However, this plan backfired on the  parties, both of whom lost seats in the election.

The polls also indicated that the Socialists would lose seats and be overtaken by the PSD. Nonetheless, the Socialists took 117 seats out of the assembly’s 230. 

Polls correctly indicated the rise of the far-right Chega party, making this election cycle the first time a far-right party has ever gained traction since the country transitioned from fascism. Chega gained 11 seats this election, previously having only one last election. 

This win allows the Socialists to govern without relying on the communists or the Left Bloc for support. The Socialists will be opposed by the PSD and Chega.

Near the end of the campaign, Costa warned voters that a PSD government would be held “hostage” by Chega. 

Chega’s proposed policies included castrating sex offenders and stronger support for police officers.

This portrayal of the rise of the right wing helped incentivize left-wing voters, who usually support the Communist Party or the Left Bloc, to switch their vote to the Socialists for a tactical advantage over the right wing.

Portugal’s left wing largely consolidated its votes for the Socialists, whereas the right wing was fragmented among the Social Democrats, Chega and the Liberal Initiative parties.

This, coupled with a higher than projected voter turnout, ultimately paid off for the Socialist Party. Though four parliamentary seats have yet to be allotted, two of these seats were taken by the Socialists in the previous election.

COVID-19 was a defining issue of this election. Approximately one out of every 10 Portuguese were quarantined with COVID-19 during the election, but the government allowed those quarantining to vote in-person. 

Ahead of the election, Costa argued that a Socialist victory would help lessen the chaos of the pandemic.

“Everyone is realizing how important this election is, and how important it is that there’s a solid victory that will give the country stability and generate the consensus and national unity that is fundamental for us to turn the page on this pandemic,” he said. 

Costa stated during his victory speech that, despite the Socialists’ outright majority, he would not only govern for the Socialists.

 “An absolute majority doesn’t mean absolute power. It doesn’t mean to govern alone. It’s an increased responsibility and it means to govern with and for all Portuguese,” he said. “The conditions have been created to carry out investments and reforms for Portugal to be more prosperous, fairer, more innovative.”