EAt first it looked like it would be an extremely close race in Portugal. But then António Costa achieved a historic election result: After counting 99 percent of the constituencies, the Socialist Party (PS) of the incumbent head of government received 41.6 percent of the votes, an increase of around six percent compared to 2019. The Socialists under José Sócrates last managed to win an absolute majority 17 years ago.
The latest polls had predicted a neck-and-neck race with the conservative PSD party, which then only got 27.8 percent. “An absolute majority is not absolute power and does not mean that one can govern alone. It is a responsibility to govern for all Portuguese,” Costa said on election night. Although the results of the four foreign constituencies are still pending, the Socialists have already secured 117 of the 230 mandates; abroad they could win another MP or two.
No majority for the budget
Shortly after the polling stations were closed, it was clear that the PS would again be the strongest force in the new parliament; Costa has been in office at the head of a minority government since 2015. But at the end of 2021, the head of government seemed to have miscalculated politically. He did not get a majority for his budget, and the president called early elections after just over two years.
Costa fought for an absolute majority from the start, but this seemed increasingly unlikely the longer the election campaign went on. In the event of a defeat, Costa had announced his withdrawal. But then he triumphed.
If the Socialists had just missed an absolute majority, Costa originally wanted to govern together with the animal protection party “People – Animals – Nature” (PAN) and the small left-wing Livre party, but in the end they only got one mandate each. Before the election, he was already cautiously promoting this “Ecoeringonça” – an ecological new edition of the loose government cooperation that Costa maintained between 2015 and 2019 with the left bloc (BE) and the communists.
This time it could be a “rattletrap” with the animal rights activists. This is the German translation of Geringonça, a derogatory term used by the opposition for Costa’s minority government, which is tolerated by the two left-wing parties.
Painful losses for former partners
The election brought painful losses to his former partners, who failed his household. The Left Bloc (BE) and the Communists (PCP), who had allied themselves with the Greens, each received only around 4.4 percent. The left bloc loses 14 deputies. In his place, the right-wing populist Chega party became the third largest party in the new parliament, increasing from 1.2 percent to 7.1 percent. However, its chairman André Ventura had hoped for up to ten percent. Instead of one, Chega now has twelve MPs.
The fourth largest force was the right-wing liberal “Iniciativa Liberal”, which also came into parliament for the first time in 2019 with almost the same share of the vote and now received almost five percent. Many voters for the conservative opposition leader Rui Rio’s PSD, which lost eight seats, apparently went to both parties. Rio didn’t rule out stepping down as party leader, while Costa celebrated yet another success.
In the new legislative period, the 60-year-old socialist will be the prime minister who has ruled for the longest time since the Carnation Revolution. Then Costa overtakes the conservative Aníbal Cavaco Silva, who was in office from 1985 to 1995. Despite the omicron wave, which has Portugal firmly in its grip, an unusually large number of Portuguese voted at almost 58 percent.