Portugal kicked off the electoral year in Europe yesterday with a good result for the centre-left and a bad result for the opinion polls. But it’s an especially bad result for the parties – in this case on the far left – that forced the election two years ahead of schedule.
As explained in my preview last Friday, the two far-left parties (the Left Bloc and the CDU) were previously the third and fourth largest parties in the Portuguese parliament, but they came to feel that supporting a centre-left government was hurting their prospects. So last October they voted with the opposition to reject the budget of prime minister António Costa, forcing a snap poll.
As a result, they will now be the fifth and sixth largest parties, having lost almost half their vote: down from a collective 16.9% and 31 seats to just 9.0% and 11 seats.* No-one will ever be sure whether the early election or the previous period of supporting the government cost them the most (for what it’s worth, the opinion polls suggest a steady decline rather than a sharp drop), but either way their strategy was not a success.
Instead, Costa’s Socialists have been rewarded with an absolute majority, up 3.8% to 42.5% and 117 of the 226 seats so far decided. (Official results here. The four overseas seats are yet to come in; last time the centre-left and centre-right won two each.) That’s an embarrassingly bad result for the opinion polls, which had put them in the high 30s and falling.
The centre-right opposition came up well short, with a total of 31.6% of the vote (down 2.4%) and 76 seats (down six). Centre-right leader Rui Rio quickly conceded defeat and indicated that he would step down, correctly saying that “We didn’t come anywhere near our objectives.”
But two relatively new parties, as expected, did well: the far-right Chega and the right-liberal Liberal Initiative, which in 2019 had just 1.4% and one seat each, will now have the third and fourth largest contingents with 12 and eight seats respectively. Chega’s 7.3% puts it in about the middle of the pack for European far right parties. The animal rights party PAN lost more than half of its vote and three of its four seats.
So the overall movement is actually from left to right, to the tune of around six points. But not only has the left retained the majority, it is now much more concentrated in a single party – an impressive achievement for a government seeking a third term. Turnout, which has been in steady decline in recent years, was well up at 58.0%.
UPDATE, 10 February: The four overseas seats have finally been decided and they again went two each to centre-left and centre-right. That brings the Socialists to 119, a comfortable eight-seat majority.
* Technical note: when I wrote the preview I failed to notice that the official results don’t factor out the informals, which makes a difference since for some reason there are noticeably fewer of them this time (2.1% vs 4.9%). I have now done so and recalculated the 2019 results accordingly, which means they will disagree slightly with the numbers I cited on Friday.