Defying all odds, Portugal’s ruling centre-left Socialists won an outright parliamentary majority in Sunday’s snap general election, securing a strong new mandate for the prime minister, Antonio Costa.

The result, boosted by a higher than expected turnout despite the coronavirus pandemic, came as a surprise after the Socialists had lost most of their advantage in recent opinion polls. It means Portugal will have a stable government to oversee the application of EU pandemic recovery funds.

Costa said in his victory speech early on Monday: “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.”

Just after 1am in Lisbon, the Socialists were confirmed as winning 117 seats in the 230-seat parliament, up from 108 won in the 2019 election. Earlier, when Costa said the party had won 117 or 118 seats, his supporters erupted in loud celebrations, singing the old revolutionary anthem “Grandola” and waving flags.

After last week’s opinion polls Costa himself acknowledged that Portuguese did not want to give him a full majority and said he was prepared to strike alliances with like-minded parties, which is now no longer necessary.

Portuguese prime minister and leader of the Socialist party (PS) Antonio Costa waves as he addresses the nation after winning the general election.
Portuguese prime minister and leader of the Socialist party (PS) Antonio Costa waves as he addresses the nation after winning the general election. Photograph: Pedro Fiúza/ZUMA Press Wire/REX/Shutterstock

The vote was called in November after Costa’s hard-left former Communist and Left Bloc allies joined the right in striking down his minority government’s budget.

The two far-left parties paid the price, losing more than a half of their seats, according to exit polls.

Costa, who came to power in 2015 in the aftermath of a 2011-14 debt crisis, has presided over a period of steady economic growth that helped shrink the budget deficit and even eke out a small surplus in 2019, before the pandemic struck.

Still, Portugal remains western Europe’s poorest country and relies on EU pandemic recovery funds.

Economist Filipe Garcia, the head of consultants Informacao de Mercados Financeiros in Porto, said investors were likely to appreciate Costa’s new strong mandate, given the government’s record cutting of the budget deficit.

“Furthermore, the Socialists will not need to compromise [with other parties], which guarantees stability and a clear line of action. The biggest challenge will be to promote potential growth,” he said.

The centre-right Social Democrats came a distant second at below 30% of the vote, according to provisional results, against the Socialists’ tally of around 42%.

The far-right Chega emerged as the third-largest parliamentary force, making a big leap from just one seat in the previous legislature to at least 11.

A stable government would bode well for Portugal’s access to a €16.6bn ($18.7bn) package of EU pandemic recovery aid and its success in channelling funds into projects to boost economic growth.

With more than a tenth of Portugal’s 10 million people estimated to be isolating because of Covid-19, the government had allowed infected people to leave isolation and cast ballots in person, and electoral officials wore protection suits in the afternoon to receive them.

Turnout was on track to beat 2019’s record low participation of 49%.

As in many European countries, infections have spiked, although vaccination has kept deaths and hospitalisations lower than in earlier waves.

Source: The Guardian