Portugal’s election shows a surge in support for the far right, reflecting a broader European trend

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Portugal’s election shows a surge in support for the far right, reflecting a broader European trend

Democratic Alliance (AD) leader Luis Montenegro celebrates his victory as he addresses supporters at the party’s election night headquarters, in Lisbon on March 10, 2024.

Miguel Riopa | Afp | Getty Images

Portugal’s far-right Chega party on Sunday received a surge in support in the country’s snap general election, reflecting a broader shift to the radical right across Europe.

Portugal’s center-right Democratic Alliance claimed victory in the vote, winning 79 seats in the country’s 230-seat National Assembly — well short of a parliamentary majority. The incumbent center-left Socialist Party followed closely behind with 77 seats.

The result — which saw the parliamentary representation of the Chega party quadruple to at least 48 lawmakers — gives the political right a combined majority.

The outcome means Chega could play an influential role in the formation of a new administration.

Luis Montenegro, head of the Social Democratic Party which leads the Democratic Alliance, has previously ruled out the possibility of governing with Chega, and he reiterated this stance in the early hours of Monday.

Earlier, the left-leaning Socialist Party leader Pedro Nuno Santos conceded defeat, saying the party, which has been in power since 2015, would not support the Democratic Alliance’s platform.

Socialist party leader Pedro Nuno Santos addresses supporters at the party’s election night event, in Lisbon on March 10, 2024.

Patricia De Melo Moreira | Afp | Getty Images

Chega leader Andre Ventura told reporters that Sunday’s vote “clearly showed that the Portuguese want a government of the AD [Democratic Alliance] with Chega,” according to Reuters. Ventura said Montenegro would bear responsibility for any political instability if he refused to negotiate with Chega.

The party’s political success reaffirms a political drift to the right across the continent. Observers had been closely monitoring the result of Portugal’s election as a potential bellwether ahead of European Parliament elections in June.

Portugal’s election was held on Sunday following the abrupt resignation of Socialist Prime Minster Antonio Costa in November amid a corruption investigation.

A trend seen across Europe

Vicente Valentim, a political scientist at the University of Oxford in England, described the vote as “somewhat of a defining moment for the country.”

In a post on social media platform X, Valentim said Monday: “The Portuguese election yesterday highlights a common trend: support for the far right often grows very fast.”

The recent surge in support for far-right parties such as Portugal’s Chega, Greece’s Golden Dawn, France’s National Front and Spain’s Vox could be at least partly be explained by a process of normalization, according to Valentim.

Chega leader Andre Ventura addresses supporters at Marriot Hotel, where the party holds the election night event, in Lisbon on March 10, 2024.

Andre Dias Nobre | Afp | Getty Images

“Many people had far right views already, but they did not express them because they feared social ostracism,” he added.

“As a consequence, the far right had mostly low skill leaders, who were unable to mobilize even voters who privately agreed with them. But, once skilled politicians do join the far right (like Ventura in Portugal), they are able to attract support from these voters.”

Valentim said such growth in support for far-right parties across Europe “does not require an actual change in people’s political preferences,” which he says is a long-term process. Instead, “it simply requires that people [start] acting on what they already thought in private.”

‘A fantastic success’

Far-right parties across Europe congratulated Chega’s Ventura for the significant gains in Sunday’s vote.

“Congratulations Andre Ventura for that great result,” Santiago Abascal, the leader of Spain’s Vox party, said Sunday via social media, according to a Google translation.

Maximilian Krah, member of the European parliament for Alternative for Germany, said Sunday as the votes were being counted, that Portugal’s Chega party was “on the way to a fantastic success,” according to a translation.

Harald Vilimsky, member of the European parliament for the anti-immigration Freedom Party of Austria, also sent his congratulations to Chega.

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