Portuguese National Elections: Voting against European trends

by Aline Mola

Portugal had national elections on Sunday 6 October 2019, with more than 20 political movements running.

Given Portugal’s history, the country has a unique political situation within the European context: it sees a ruling socialist party and lacks a prominent far-right movement. The Prime Minister António Costa from the Socialist Party (PS) has been in this role since the 2015 elections, ruling with a coalition of left parties called Geringonça (Contraption in English). This coalition was between the PS, the Communist Party (PCP) and the Left Bloc (BE).

Costa and the PS remained the favored to win, but it was unclear whether they would obtain absolute majority. His ambition was to achieve absolute majority in order to dissolve Geringonça. It was also expected that the Social Democratic Party (PSD) would place second , followed by BE. The People, Animals, Nature (PAN) party was expected to receive more seats than the previous elections, as environmentalism rises in popularity. Should the PS fail to obtain absolute majority, there is also the possibility of a PS and PAN collaboration. Four parties were also expected to be represented in the parliament for the first time: Liberal Initiative (Iniciativa Liberal), Enough (Chega, ECR), Free (Livre, Greens) and Alliance (Aliança).

Post-election results

As expected, the PS won, counting 106 seats in the Parliament at 36.6% of votes, a significant increase from their previous 86. Other parties that managed to obtain seats in the Parliament include PSD with 77 seats (27.9%), the BE with 19(9.7%), the Unitary Democratic Coalition (CDU) with 12 (6.7%), the Center Democratic and Social - Popular Party (CDS-PP) with 5 (4.25%), PAN with 4 (3.28%), and the newly represented parties Chega, Iniciativa Liberal, and Livre with 1 candidate (around 1%). Four seats are yet to be determined, two from the European constituency and two from outside of Europe. It is the first time Portugal has nine parties seated at the parliament.

Ranking at 6th place, the CDS-PP party saw a historical defeat and lost 15 seats. CDS leader Assunção Cristas announced on 6 October her resignation from the leadership of the party as they accept defeat with “democratic humility”. It is also interesting to note that this was a record lowest election turnouts in the country, 46% of voters staying away from polling stations. This is a concerning statistic, particularly considering that in 1975 over 95% of the Portuguese population headed to polls for the first national elections in the country after the dictatorship.

Despite achieving the expected victory PS was unable to secure absolute majority, which would have been achieved at 116 members of the parliament. This means Costa will find partners for a coalition once again, and both BE and PCP stated they are willing to support the PS.

Renewal of a political contraption

Given the results, the new government is expected to ensure continuity of the previous government, as Geringonça will likely be recreated. In fact, Costa stated in his winning speech “the Portuguese liked this political solution and wish for its continuity, with a strengthened Socialist Party”. With the renewed strength of PS, it is yet to be determined whether Costa will accept both BE and PCP in the renewed Geringonça coalition. The previous coalition focused on economic growth and despite lack of faith at its establishment, it has been undeniably successful, leading to financial stability during this legislation. Portugal’s interest and success in this area can be seen at EU level as well, particularly with the Minister of Finance Mário Centeno being elected president of the Eurogroup and Commissioner-designate Elisa Ferreira being assigned the Cohesion and Reforms portfolio.

Costa is also expected to court the environmentalist groups PAN and perhaps even Livre to join the coalition. The coordinator for the BE claimed that the National Health System (SNS) will be a main topic of discussion of the new government, in response to growing amount of strikes and complaints from patients and healthcare professionals alike. In terms of health, the PS does not plan on establishing new public-private partnerships. There is also ambition to create a universal family healthcare system (USF), and to eliminate user taxes of primary healthcare services. Other priorities for this term include education, digital transition, equality, ageing population, and climate change.