Political chaos comes to Portugal

Under the hangover of the most intense election night in a long time, perhaps since the presidential elections of 1986, Portugal woke up yesterday suddenly away from the oasis of old traditional politics that has inhabited the last years, in contrast with the chaos prevailing in the closest environment of the European periphery.

Oliver Thansan
Oliver Thansan
11 March 2024 Monday 11:24
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Political chaos comes to Portugal

Under the hangover of the most intense election night in a long time, perhaps since the presidential elections of 1986, Portugal woke up yesterday suddenly away from the oasis of old traditional politics that has inhabited the last years, in contrast with the chaos prevailing in the closest environment of the European periphery. Not only has the existence of a powerful extreme right been approved, the result of the rise of Chega (Prou), the party of the ultra André Ventura. It has also entered the territory of the very difficult or impossible governability that has often been given to neighboring states, starting with Spain itself.

It is certain, this very Portuguese word, that the conservative candidate Luís Montenegro will be the next prime minister to replace the resigned Socialist António Costa, in power for eight years and a little over three months. In a Parliament with a very clear right-wing majority, of 136 deputies out of a total of 230, in the absence of the allocation of the four reserved for the Portuguese abroad, the first position achieved by Montenegro guarantees it to become the head of the government, since the defeated candidate, the socialist Pedro Nuno Santos, reiterated on election night the commitment he made in this regard during the campaign. Beyond these premises, the field of security ends and we enter more than shaky ground.

After such close scrutiny in the fight for first place that it was decided at midnight in Portugal in favor of the conservatives by only nine-tenths in percentage of the vote and two seats, the Portuguese held on until the end of the count and n went to bed under the prospect of a possible blockade that does not affect the appointment of the chief executive, but the conditions under which he will be able to exercise power. In the Portuguese semi-presidential system, the equivalent of the President of the Spanish Government is appointed by the President of the Republic, without there being an investiture session in Parliament, but the latter can make him fall if he rejects his program.

This assumption, which occurred in 2015, is now ruled out in Portugal, because the participation of the socialists would be required. Thus, the President of the Republic, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, who comes out of this whole process touched after having denied that the Socialists continued to govern when Costa resigned in November, will designate in the coming weeks Montenegro, whom the Parliament did not will fall Its problem lies in the fact that it only has 79 deputies. Even if he obtained three of the four seats from the outside, which is very complicated, and the eight from the Liberals, he would get 90 in total, in a hemicycle of 230 seats, far from the absolute majority, of 116 deputies.

On the same election night, the only two governance solutions that could be glimpsed were resoundingly discarded, at least for now. One consists of an informal grand coalition between the two major parties, which in Portugal is known as the central bloc. With the socialist abstention, the conservatives could go ahead with the budgets, even if the other parties vote against it. But Pedro Nuno Santos has already announced that they are going to the opposition, a fact that cuts this path.

The other way that, in theory, Montenegro has is the one offered by André Ventura's Chega, which consists of an alliance with which the ultras would try to enter the government. The conservative leader responds to the offer with the Portuguese version of "no és no". It was what the PSOE of Pedro Sánchez said in 2016 before the investiture of Mariano Rajoy, until there was the hand of the barons. The não é não lusità was uttered by Luís Montenegro at midnight on Sunday to update his campaign commitment not to get along with the extreme right, despite the fact that it is the bet of an influential lobby of his party, headed by the former Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho, who in the campaign assumed Chega's ideology, after assuring that there is a situation of insecurity linked to the increase in immigration. He did it in the Algarve, the only constituency precisely where Ventura prevailed at the polls.

In these circumstances, new strong pressures, internal and external, can be seen on Montenegro and also on Santos to modify their position, so that an alliance of all the right-wing parties, such as those established by the PP of Alberto Núñez Feijóo, is possible in numerous autonomies and like what would predictably exist in Spain if the arithmetic allowed it, or an understanding of the two major parties, like what worked for several years in Germany, although in the Portuguese case through specific pacts . Both solutions appear to be ruled out right now, so yesterday the specter of a new electoral call hovered over Lisbon, perhaps for next year. It would be the third in just one year.

The rapid return to the polls cannot be ruled out in any way, although caution is required in a tense situation, especially in a Portuguese policy that has been more than surprising since 2015, when the country had just freed itself from tutelage of the troika of the IMF, the EU and the European Central Bank for the international economic rescue of the country. Then António Costa formed an unprecedented parliamentary coalition of all the left, the so-called geringonça, which appeared as a short-term solution and which generated the most stable period of Portuguese politics in recent years. On the other hand, two years ago, when Costa obtained an absolute majority, the announced stage of institutional placidity turned into a rollercoaster that led to the fall of the Government after two years.

In this last biennium, in most cases without wanting to, the main actors of traditional Portuguese politics have ended up working for the Chega de Ventura to achieve the spectacular rise of Sunday, when it grew twice 2.5 times in percentage of vote and quadrupled in the number of deputies.

In 2022 the Chega obtained some discrete results within the upward current of the extreme right throughout the continent and the planet. But with his 7% Ventura came third, which led the media to magnify his importance, while the Socialist Government continued to fuel the threat of the ultra-right, as it had already done in the campaign, and was disintegrating in a succession of scandals, such as that of corruption in his immediate environment, still to be clarified, which led Costa to resign. He died of success, after obtaining the absolute majority. Since the President of the Republic imposed new immediate elections, the PS went with a little-known candidate. Among the six main parties, only Chega kept the 2020 headliner, which made Ventura the master of the electoral floor.

The sharp rise of the Chega is due to the corruption scandals of socialists and conservatives, the current dearth of basic products, the sudden increase in immigration and the global feeling of anxiety. There was the perfect breeding ground for Ventura to put an end to the Portuguese oasis and for the politics of chaos to emerge.