Portuguese voters head to polls in tight general election By Reuters



© Reuters. Far right political party Chega leader Andre Ventura gestures as he queues at a polling station during the general election in Lisbon, Portugal, March 10, 2024. REUTERS/Violeta Santos Moura


By David Latona and Catarina Demony

LISBON/ESPINHO (Reuters) – Portuguese voters headed to the polls on Sunday, facing a choice between switching to a centre-right government or keeping the centre-left in power, although neither appears to have a clear path to a full majority.

The far-right Chega party has been growing in clout and could play a role in post-election talks.

The issues dominating the campaign in western Europe’s poorest country include a crippling housing crisis, low wages, sagging healthcare and corruption, seen by many as endemic to the mainstream parties.

Polling stations opened at 8 a.m. (0800 GMT) and close at 7 p.m. in mainland Portugal and an hour later on the Azores archipelago. Results are expected around midnight.

The early election, four months after Socialist Prime Minister Antonio Costa’s sudden resignation amid a graft investigation, again pits against each other the two centrist parties – the Socialist Party (PS) and the Social Democratic Party (PSD) – that have alternated in power since the end of a fascist dictatorship five decades ago.

“I hope life gets better than what it is now,” 86-year-old Diamantino Vieira told Reuters as he waited to vote at a polling station in the northern city of Espinho, where Luis Montenegro, who is at the helm of the Democratic Alliance (AD) of right-leaning parties, will also cast his ballot.

The AD, which compromises Montenegro’s PSD and two smaller conservative parties, leads in most opinion polls but it could struggle to govern without Chega’s supporting votes. Montenegro has so far ruled out any deals with the radical populists, who want a government role.

The ruling PS, now led by Pedro Nuno Santos after Costa’s resignation, could attempt a replay of their old alliances with the Left Bloc and the Communists that allowed them to govern between 2015 and 2019, if the combined left gets more than 115 seats in the 230-seat parliament.

Surveys suggest support for Chega’s anti-establishment message, its vows to sweep away corruption and hostility to what it sees as “excessive” immigration, has roughly doubled since the last election in 2022, though it remains in third place.

On Friday, conservative President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa told Expresso newspaper he would do everything he can to prevent Chega from gaining power, drawing criticism as the head of state is mandated to remain neutral.

Political scientist Antonio Costa Pinto of Lisbon University said Portugal “has entered the dynamic of many European democracies”, in which the centre-right is challenged by having a radical party to its right consolidated in third place.

A potential AD minority government, even supported by the smaller centre-right Liberal Initiative, would likely need votes from Chega to pass legislation, making it relatively fragile as Chega could topple it at any point.

However, “a PS victory with an absolute right-wing majority in parliament would be the most complex, most unstable scenario,” Costa Pinto added.

More than 10 million citizens are eligible to vote.

#Portuguese #voters #polls #tight #general #election #Reuters

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