With the polls pointing to a comfortable re-election of current president Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, Portugal will go to the polls this Sunday (24) with an eye on who will be in second place.
The vice-leadership is the target of a heated conflict between two candidates from a completely different political spectrum: former ambassador Ana Gomes, 66, with decades of socialist activism, and MP André Ventura, 38, leader of the right-wing populist party Chega.
The fight for second place, once a symbolic issue of political strength, has escalated with record abstention predictions, which could lead the dispute to a hitherto unexpected run-off.
Elections are taking place at the worst time of the coronavirus pandemic, with the country returning to general isolation. With voting optional, fear of Covid-19 is expected to leave many voters at home, especially the elderly, the group that votes most often.
With a high level of popularity and over 57% of voting intentions in all polls, Rebelo de Sousa is in a comfortable situation, but has already publicly admitted the possibility of a second round.
To win in the first round, a candidate must have more than 50% of the vote, as in Brazil. Otherwise, the two most voted will compete in the second round.
For political scientist Paula Espírito Santo, professor at the University of Lisbon, the effects of the health crisis on the vote are relevant, but she sees in the statement of the current president “a way to appeal to voters who are already holding their election to acquired “.
The results of the presidential elections will make it possible to delimit the extent of the rise of the radical right in Lusitanian politics, which for many years was considered, in a way, immune to this type of discourse.
While several European countries have experienced expressive growth of the populist right over the past decade – including neighboring Spain, with Vox – in Portugal this current only managed to reach parliament in the last elections, in 2019, precisely with Ventura.
With anti-system rhetoric and proposals such as the chemical castration of pedophiles, the MP and his party also stood out for their criticism of the Roma community, which they accused of being dependent on RSI (Social Integration Income), a kind of local Bolsa Família.
Amid a scenario of growing voting intentions and numerous demands for party membership, Chega and his leader have come to attract the attention of some of Europe’s far-right stars.
Host of the French legend of the National Meeting, Marine Le Pen was in Lisbon this month to take part in the campaign acts. Former minister and leader of the League, the Italian Matteo Salvini recorded a video in which he even ventured into Portuguese: “André Ventura is the president of the Portuguese of the good”, he declared.
Last week, a speech by Ventura, who criticized the lipstick also worn by presidential candidate Marisa Matias (Bloco de Esquerda), led to a wave of protests on social media.
The hashtag #VermelhoemBelem, a reference to Belém Palace, seat of Portugal’s presidency, has arrived in Brazil, with singer Chico Buarque posting an image in which he and his girlfriend appear with their lips painted red.
In the home stretch of the campaign, despite controversies and international support for Ventura, socialist Ana Gomes appears ahead in the polls. A historical figure of the Socialist Party, the lawyer is a candidate for the presidency as an independent. His criticism of fellow legendary colleagues – including Prime Minister António Costa – ended up ensuring that his name was not consensual, even among socialists.
A career diplomat, Gomes was Ambassador to Indonesia and played an important role in the negotiations for the independence of East Timor. From diplomacy to politics, she was an MEP for over a decade.
In recent years, he has become one of the main critics of tax evasion in Portugal and Europe and has championed an end to gold visas, which give residence permits to foreigners who buy luxury properties. The activism brought her closer to hacker Rui Pinto, responsible for the Football Leaks and Luanda Leaks document leaks, which revealed suspicious financial transactions of several businessmen.
In an interview with the international press, Gomes criticized Jair Bolsonaro and her handling of the pandemic, saying that if she was elected she would not be in possession of a possible second term for the Brazilian president.
“Brazil is not having an easy time. I am very worried that everyone in Brazil is suffering, in particular because of the terrible management of the pandemic, the result of President Bolsonaro’s attitude and the lack of agreement with the authorities at all levels by his government ”, did he declare.
Former party leader, university professor and political commentator for more than 30 years on Portuguese television, the current president, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, 72, was already a celebrity before taking office. His posture after assuming the presidency only increased the buzz around his image.
Upon arriving at Belém Palace, he opted for a close relationship with the Portuguese, marked by selfies and hugs from voters. This behavior, unprecedented for the occupants of the post, quickly attracted attention and, of course, criticism for overexposure and supposed populism.
The president is also the only politician treated by his first name and likes to convey an image of simplicity: he is usually seen driving his own car, queuing at the supermarket or taking a dip on the beach in Cascais.
Despite being a former leader of the center-right PSD (Social Democratic Party), he has developed a close relationship with Socialist Prime Minister Costa, who has already expressed his desire to see Rebelo de Sousa renewed. Proximity has been one of the main criticisms of his right-wing opponents.
Portugal has a parliamentary system, in which the government is under the responsibility of the Prime Minister. The president has a more institutional role, occupying the post of head of state. However, the post concentrates powers deemed strategic, such as the possibility of dissolving Parliament and calling for new elections.
The term, which officially begins on March 9, lasts five years.