The 2022 Portuguese Elections – a centre-left comeback?

Portuguese Prime Minister António Costa celebrates winning an absolute majority in parliament.

by Josie Ella Sawtell Cousins

The 2022 Portuguese Elections – a centre-left comeback?

by Josie Ella Sawtell Cousins

The 2022 Portuguese Elections – a centre-left comeback?

by Josie Ella Sawtell Cousins

Last Sunday, Portuguese Prime Minister António Costa won a Third consecutive term with his Socialist Party securing an absolute majority in parliament.

The Socialist Party gained an unprecedented 41.7% of the vote, five points up and aequated to an increase of 11 seats to 2019.  The electoral results also put the Socialist Party ahead of the center-right Social Democratic Party (PSD) on 28 percent.

In response to the election victory Costa has said, “The Portuguese have confirmed that they want a Socialist Party government for the next four years … they want stability, certainty, and security.”

Following the electoral success of Germany’s SPD and Norway’s Labour Party a, many political academics have pointed to a comeback by Europe’s centre-left, a political movement that five years ago was in terminal decline. 

It seems the socialists Partys success in Portugal may be the icing on the cake. As Jon Lenley suggested in the Guardian “Costa’s win in Portugal continues comeback by Europe’s centre-left”. As Jeremy Cliffe highlithed in the News Statseman “Victory puts Portuguese Socialists at forefront of Europe’s centre-left comeback”

However, after speaking with Ms Ana Reimao, Lecturer in Portuguese Studies at the University of Liverpool, it seems the victory for the Socialists in Portugal hides deeper political shifts.

Firstly, as Ms Reimo highlighted, the most recent election may have marked the decline of coalition governments in Portugal. Since 2015, Costa has headed minority administrations propped up by two far-left parties. Last Sunday, the tables turned in Portuguese politics as

Costa gained a solid majority in Government.

Looking at in international level, it appears there is a significant decline in coalition governments. In 2020 Jacinda Ardern gained a landslide at the New Zealand election. Many political academics have suggested this may be due to Adhern’s effective response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Therefore, as Ms Remiao pointed out, and further highlighted in the electoral success of

Costa and Adhern’s, it appears in times of significant socio-economic upheaval, COVID-19 being a key example, voters are increasingly in favour for a strong and stable form of Government. In the case of Portugal, this means a solid majority to the Socialist Party to Govern.

Moving on, as Ms Remio noted, The 2022 Portuguese Elections also marked an electoral  decline in the far left. The left-wing BE suffered the single greatest losses, falling from 19 seats to five following the results. Furthermore, the communist PCP gained only 4.4% of the votes, marking a decline in seats from 10 to just six.

As many have pointed to, the decline in the far left in Portugal may have further consolidated the Socialist Party’s victory on Sunday. As Ana Reimo further points out, tactical voting may have been critical to the Socialist Party’s victory on Sunday, with many Portuguese voters tactically voting for the Socialist Party to prevent the rise of the far right.

This trend of tactical voting is nothing new for European electoral politics. At the 2017 French Presidential Election, OpinionWay found that among those that voters for Macron, only 65 per cent said he was their top pick for president rather than, for example, the “least bad” candidate.

So, in analysing the Socialist Party’s victory on Sunday, it may mark a comeback of social democracy in Portugal, but ultimately at the expense of the far-left. 

As touched on previously, Last Sunday’s election also marked the parliamentary gains of the far right. The Far-right party Chega increasing their Parliamentary seats from 1 in 2019 to a landmark 12, making Chega the third biggest party in the Portuguese Parliament. These significant Parliamentary gains mean that Chega now qualify to form a parliamentary group, granting them greater influence and profile within the Assembly.

In Cas Mudde’s 2019 book, Populism: A Very Short Introduction, he suggested that

no country is immune to nativist, authoritarian and populist appeals. It appears the Parliamentary gains of the Far-right party Chega further confirm Mudde’s suggestion.

This may be a comeback to Social Democracy, but this is also a resurgence of the far-right in Portuguese politics.

However, as Ms Reimo noted, the Socialist Party’s third term in Government may mark a decline in the prevalence of the the Far-right party Chega. As Ms Reimo highlights, at present, Chega seems to adopt an ‘anti-system voice’. However, as of last Sunday’s election, Chega now hold significant representation within Portuguese Parliament, potentially discrediting their ‘anti-system voice’. What’s more, the Parliamentary representation of Chega provides greater legislative opportunities for the Socialist Party to challenge far-right political discourse.

So, whilst this election marked the Parliamentary gains of the Far-right party Chega, the Socialist party’s outright majority my potentially mark a prospective decline in Chega, due to the challenges associated with legislative power. However, it is important to stress that this claim is dealing with hypothetical, there is no significant data to back this claim up.

The Socialist Party’s absolute majority in parliament may be a comeback to Social Democracy the victory. But the victory hides deeper political shifts within the Portuguese electorate, ultimately reflective of wider political shifts in Europe.  

However, as an ancient adage suggested “With great power comes great responsibility”. Following the 2022 Portuguese Election, the Socialist Party hold great legislative power. It is clear they now have great responsibility, particarly in their COVID recovery programme and in legislative challenges to the fa-right.  

Thankyou to Ms Ana Reimao, Lecturer in Portuguese Studies for talking with me – catch up with our interview on the most recent Liverpool International Politics show.

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