Fired up by the good result in the presidential elections, of which it came with the third place and the preference of 11.9% of the voters, the populist party Chega tries to use the municipal elections – scheduled for September – to force its entry into the government . decision-making process in Portugal.
The idea is to gain the maximum number of representations in municipal councils (equivalent to prefectures) in order to break the “cordon sanitaire” – as the Portuguese called the alliance against the far right which was sewn up by the traditional parties of the Portuguese center-right, the PSD and the CDS-PP.
Supporting proposals such as the chemical castration of pedophiles and the death penalty, in addition to defending that there is no racism in Portugal, Chega won not only the anti-system vote, but also disgruntled voters in the rest of the right in the country.
Much of the presidential campaign of party leader André Ventura, 38, was made out of antagonism with other candidates, notably with socialist Ana Gomes.
Deputy in the election, Gomes had promised to demand the extinction of Chega if he was elected. Although he did not win the seat in Belém, he decided to go ahead with the idea and just submitted a request to the attorney general’s office to ban the legend.
Among the 40 points presented in support of the request, the lawyer cites examples of incitement to violence and raises possible funding irregularities. Constitutionalists, however, find it difficult for the proposal to irregularize Chega to go forward.
In the assessment of political scientist António Costa Pinto, of the Institute of Social Sciences at the University of Lisbon, Chega’s growth shows a reconfiguration of the right in Portugal, where election polls have already shown that around 20% of voters were sensitive to the type of punitive discourse propagated by the party.
The difference is that, until now, these voters have been absorbed into the traditional democratic parties.
According to Costa Pinto, Portugal faces a dilemma that was already present for traditional right-wing parties in other European countries, with the shadow of a growing populist party.
“If Chega manages to maintain this 10% [dos votos] in the legislative elections, he will grow and will be a fundamental element in governing it on the right in this country, ”he said.
Chega won important votes in several districts, including traditional Communist strongholds, such as Alentejo. Numerous votes were also won in the upscale neighborhoods of Lisbon, Cascais and the Algarve, showing the party’s penetration in this richer segment.
“If Portugal had a compulsory vote as in Brazil, Chega had 30% in these elections or more, for sure,” adds the political scientist, stressing the chronic high abstention in his country.
Formalized in April 2019, in less than two years, Chega has already elected a deputy and snatched nearly 500,000 votes in the last elections. The party, however, is still virtually synonymous with one man: its leader, MP André Ventura.
A law professor, Ventura has worked on television as a commentator for the country’s biggest football team, Benfica. In the political sphere, she gained national fame in 2017, when she competed for the Municipality of Loures, in the greater Lisbon, and she sparked a controversy claiming that many gypsies “live almost exclusively on subsidies from the State”.
He was not elected mayor, but got the post of councilor and started planning higher flights, like creating his own legend.
Chega’s achievement drew more than criticism from the Roma community towards activism. Individuals linked to neo-Nazi movements joined the party, and at a rally a year ago, a man was caught echoing Hitler’s salute.
Although Ventura kicked out many of these elements and promised a policy of zero tolerance, neo-Nazi groups still tend to show their support for the party at events and, primarily, on social media.
With racial tensions rising in 2020, which involved attacks on the headquarters of an anti-racist NGO and threats for black MPs to leave the country, Ventura and his party were once again at the center of the debate by denying the existence of the racism in Portugal.
Over the summer, the party organized two protests to deny the existence of racism in the country.
According to the Commission for Equality and Against Racial Discrimination, complaints of racial discrimination and xenophobia more than doubled between 2017 and 2019 in Portugal.
In an interview with Saturday magazine the day after the presidential elections, Ventura said that from that point on he was completely turned towards the municipal elections.
“To date, my work is completely self-sufficient. I am convinced that the real leap of the party is the local authorities. That’s when we show that we have local leaders, people who solve problems locally, and that’s the implantation of the skeleton of the party, ”he said.
Despite Ventura’s optimism, the challenge is considerable. Recently graduated, Chega does not yet have a regional party machine to fight in the 308 Portuguese municipalities.
The composition of the respective municipal assemblies and the 3,092 parish councils (administrative divisions within municipalities with extended powers) will also be at stake in these elections.
The capillarity required by Portuguese municipal elections is difficult, even for established mid-sized parties. The left bloc, formed more than 20 years ago and with the third largest parliamentary bench, did not win the presidency of any city council in the 2017 elections.
In an attempt to achieve the greatest possible regional reach, the party has relied on André Ventura’s travels across the country, in addition to the mobilization of local leaders dissident from traditional parties.
According to political scientist António Costa Pinto, these difficulties make it unlikely that Chega will be able to reproduce the good results of the presidential election in the next municipal elections.
The professor points out that Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa’s widespread favoritism for re-election made many voters “feel freer” to vote by affinity or in protest, which benefited André Ventura in the presidential race. .
“But the next ones are elections in which the useful vote will work more. Therefore, it is very likely that Ventura will not achieve 10% in the municipal elections, ”he added.
Despite the isolation strategy articulated last week, the second largest party in parliament, the Social Democratic Party (PSD), did not miss the first opportunity it had to negotiate with Chega at the end of the year. ‘last year.
It was only with the support of the deputies elected by the Chega that the Social Democrats were able to interrupt, at the end of 2020, the 30 years of administration of the Socialist Party in the autonomous region of the Azores.
Qualifying the cordon sanitaire proposed by the traditional right wing as “political harassment”, André Ventura even threatened to break the arrangement put in place in the archipelago, which, for the moment, has not yet happened.
Wanted, Chega did not respond to Folha’s contacts.