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Antonio Costa, Portugal’s Prime Minister, wins a majority in snap election

Portugal's Prime Minister and Socialist Party (PS) Secretary General Antonio Costa speaks to media before the announcement of the results of the general elections, in Lisbon, Portugal, January 30, 2022. REUTERS/Pedro Nunes

Against all odds, Portugal’s center-left Socialists gained an overall parliamentary majority in Sunday’s snap general election, giving Prime Minister Antonio Costa, a proponent of balanced public accounts, a strong new mandate.

The news: The outcome, which was aided by a higher-than-expected turnout despite the coronavirus epidemic, came as a shock after the Socialists had lost much of their lead in recent opinion polls, and ensures that Portugal will have a stable government to oversee the use of EU pandemic recovery funding.

  • Costa’s hard-left former Communist and Left Bloc partners joined the right in voting down his minority government’s budget in November, prompting the call for a vote.
  • According to exit polls, the two far-left parties paid the price, losing more than half of their seats.
Portugal’s Prime Minister and Socialist Party (PS) Secretary General Antonio Costa speaks to media before the announcement of the results of the general elections, in Lisbon, Portugal, January 30, 2022. REUTERS/Pedro Nunes

What Costa said: Costa had admitted after last week’s opinion surveys that the Portuguese did not want to give him a full majority and that he was willing to form coalitions with like-minded parties, which is no longer necessary.

  • “An absolute majority doesn’t mean absolute power. It doesn’t mean to govern alone. It’s an increased responsibility and it means to govern with and for all Portuguese,” Costa said in his victory speech.
  • Costa claimed his party had gained 117 or 118 seats in the 230-seat parliament, up from 108 in the previous election, and his supporters erupted in wild celebrations, singing old revolutionary anthem “Grandola” and waving flags, before the exact results were announced.
People protest against Portugal’s Social Democratic Party (PSD) leader Rui Rio before losing the general elections in Lisbon, Portugal, January 30, 2022. REUTERS/Rodrigo Antunes

Facts and figures: Costa, who took control in 2015 following a debt crisis from 2011 to 2014, presided over a period of solid economic development that helped reduce the budget deficit and even produce a modest surplus in 2019, just before the epidemic started.

  • Despite this, Portugal remains the poorest country in Western Europe, relying on EU epidemic recovery money.
  • Given the government’s record of decreasing the budget deficit, economist Filipe Garcia of Porto’s Informacao de Mercados Financeiros said investors would likely embrace Costa’s new strong mandate.
  • According to preliminary data, the centre-right Social Democrats came in second place with less than 30 per cent of the vote, compared to the Socialists’ roughly 42 per cent.
  • The far-right Chega emerged as the third-largest parliamentary force, with at least 11 seats, up from one in the previous session.
  • A stable government would help Portugal gain access to a 16.6 billion-euro ($18.7 billion) EU pandemic recovery package, as well as success in channelling funds into growth-boosting projects.
Portugal’s Socialist Party supporters react after winning the general elections, in Lisbon, Portugal, January 30, 2022. REUTERS/Pedro Nunes

What happened: With COVID-19 isolating more than a tenth of Portugal’s 10 million residents, the authorities allowed sick persons to leave isolation to vote in person, with electoral officials donning protective costumes in the afternoon to receive them.

  • Turnout was on track to break the previous low of 49 per cent set in 2019.

Infections have risen in many European nations, although vaccination has kept deaths and hospitalizations down compared to previous outbreaks.

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