Portugal begins historic parliamentary elections marked by the extreme right

Portugal begins historic parliamentary elections marked by the extreme right that seduces Brazilians World

The parliamentary elections in Portugal will officially take place in a week, but polling stations are already open today, with one exception provided for by law: Portuguese people outside their electoral residence can vote this Sunday, the 3rd, if they have previously registered with the relevant authorities .

The election is already considered historic and represents a turning point: after years of being ruled by a leftwing coalition, Portugal could see a swing to the extreme right of the “Chega” right in 2024, when the 50th anniversary of the “Revolution of the Revolution”. “Party Carnations”, a milestone in the fight against the Salazar dictatorship.

Anyone who experienced the early 1990s in Brazil will never forget the imposing figure of a handsome young Brazilian politician who declared he was ready to fight against class privilege and who, overnight, graced the front pages of the world's largest magazines and newspapers . Country.

It was the former president Fernando Collor de Mello, who was known as the “Hunter of the Maharajas”. His election and subsequent impeachment deeply shook the foundations of Brazilian society. Many “painted faces” later, a candidate emerged in Portugal who could, at least for this generation of older Brazilians, evoke the charismatic figure of the young Collor, especially in his “golden” years.

It's about Andre Ventura, candidate in this crucial election for the main party of the Portuguese extreme right, “Chega”. Described as ambitious and chameleonlike, the 41yearold lawyer, who likes to appear with a threeday stubble on campaign posters and viral videos, publicly claims that he has thought about becoming a priest or a writer, but only on television as a sports commentator, that he stood out in Portugal and his Fame opened the doors to politics.

Even Brazilians seem to have been seduced in its meteoric pull, despite the clear antimigrant discourse of the rightwing extremist party: one of the most important political figures and activists of the “Chega” party in Porto is Brazilian Marcus Santoswho describes himself on the social network X as a “former professional athlete” and currently “national advisor to the Chega party”.

In Brazil, one of the main Chega activists is former President Jair Bolsonaro, who has already publicly called on Brazilians with dual citizenship to vote for Ventura.

Message of support for the CHEGA party pic.twitter.com/iRRuaSZRKb

— Jeff Nascimento (@Jeffers78017291) March 2, 2024

Abstention and corruption: the big issues

The specter of abstention also looms in the elections on March 10th: in the 2019 and 2022 parliamentary elections, five out of ten Portuguese did not vote. And there is a general trend towards increasing abstention. Factors such as inequality, low wages and lower levels of education can help explain this growth.

The country, which officially began campaigning for parliamentary elections on Sunday the 25th, could be making a shift to the right after eight years of socialist rule, rocked by accusations of influence peddling.

“The issue of corruption in the current European situation favors the radical right,” says the political scientist Antonio Costa Pintofrom the Institute of Social Sciences of the University of Lisbon (ICS).

Several European Union countries, including Italy, Slovakia, Hungary and Finland, are governed by coalitions of farright parties. Following Geert Wilders' victory in November's general election, the Netherlands could be next on the list.

In Portugal, which celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Carnation Revolution and the end of a fascist dictatorship in April, the far right took longer to shake up the political scene than in other countries, but the theory of a Portuguese exception has been dismissed.

Xenophobia, youth and antisystem discourse: an explosive combination

Originally from a Lisbon suburb, he became a national figure when, as a candidate for another mayoralty in the region, he attacked the Gypsy community with xenophobic comments, placing himself on the fringes of his party.

Ventura then left the PSD to found the rightwing extremist party “Chega” in 2019, thereby giving a voice to a populist and antisystem discourse that had until then found no electoral medium in Portugal.

Using both his charm and his unruly jokes, he became the only member of the Portuguese parliament that same year, becoming the country's third political force in the 2022 general election.

And it is this candidate who is increasingly seducing Portuguese youth in particular. “Youth should not be a monopoly of the left,” says Portuguese parliamentarian Rita Matias. With her charismatic smile, the 25yearold has become one of the leading figures of the farright Chega party, which is banking on young voters to confirm its meteoric growth.

“Young people are at the center of our political action,” the young woman with long brown hair told supporters gathered in a public library in Lisbon as part of the campaign for next Sunday's parliamentary elections.

As the youngest MP elected in the January 2022 general election and current list leader for the Setúbal district, which includes the southern suburbs of Lisbon, the party's youth spokesman easily embodies this strategy. Matias regularly appears together with the president of “Chega”, André Ventura, and also attracts the enthusiasm of voters, who run to hug her or take selfies with her on the streets of Barreiro, one of the cities in her constituency to make, as the good ones pray, social media bible for every selfrespecting young candidate in 2024.

Chega was founded in 2019, the year the party entered parliament, and began attracting conservative voters over 40 years old. But according to recent polls, it is the party that is making the most progress among young people.

A survey published at the beginning of January showed that he had 16% of voting intentions, and among 18 to 34 year olds this figure rose to almost 26%. In this age group, the populist party was at the top of all its competitors with a share of 22%.

After eight years of socialist rule, the Portuguese will hold early parliamentary elections next Sunday, the outcome of which is considered uncertain and could lead to a renewed rise of the far right, three months before the European elections.

Tik Tok strategy: “antifeminist” and “Catholic”

As Portugal prepares to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the Carnation Revolution next month, which ended decades of authoritarian and conservative rule, the farright Chega party is banking on an electorate “that did not live through the dictatorship.” and “does not have strong ties to traditional parties,” explains Lea Heyne of the University of Lisbon’s Institute of Social Sciences, author of a study on the party.

Young parliamentarian Rita Matias was introduced to politics by her father, the leader of an antiabortion and euthanasia movement that joined Chega, and describes herself as a Catholic and “antifeminist.” Within the party, he initially took responsibility for social media and opened a TikTok account in 2021, which has now become one of the most important communication channels with young people.

With humorous videos and shocking phrases that quickly spread virally, “Chega” surpassed the mark of 200,000 followers, while its rivals, who only recently appeared on this social network, barely reached the mark of a thousand subscribers.

The commitment made by André Ventura himself to a strong presence on social media allowed his political party to counteract the image of an “extremist and racist man” that “was portrayed in the media”, admits Rita Matias.

“If the same man suddenly appears playing with his sunglasses, kicking a ball or skateboarding, (…) that brings him closer to the common citizen,” he emphasizes. “The technique is not very different from the technique used by Georgia Meloni’s far right in Italy, for example.”

“Unlikely” leftwing majority

Whoever wins the elections, “a leftwing majority seems unlikely,” observes José Santana Pereira, professor of political science at the Instituto Universitário de Lisboa ISCTE.

In the last elections two years ago, the Socialists alone won the absolute majority of seats in parliament. This time, however, the Portuguese parliament is likely to lean to the right due to the rise of the young farright party Chega, which became the country's third strongest political force in January 2022 with 7.2% of voters. and he is now credited with 17% of voting intentions.

“This increase follows a trend observed in other European countries,” notes Santana Pereira. “Until 2019 (when Chega was founded), Portugal was described as a kind of safe haven, free from populism, but it was obviously only a matter of time before it took hold,” he adds.

“The stage was set,” emphasizes the political scientist, explaining that “populist attitudes” towards political elites were already present in public opinion.

*With AFP and agencies