Disinterest and distrust: European elections get record levels of abstention

Portuguese voters showed a combination of disinterest and distrust in last Sunday’s European elections.

Abstention-levels nudged 70% as many preferred the lure of the beach, while a ‘surprising’ number of voters made the effort to turn up at polling stations to deliver ‘blank’ or so-called ‘void’ ballot papers.

President Marcelo – who had exhorted the country to exercise its democratic right to vote – is expected to meet now with the various political parties to ‘give his opinions’ on this “very significant number’ of citizens who “chose not to choose”.

Portugal is only months away from its own legislative elections, and the national ennui when it comes to the ‘democratic process’ clearly needs to be tackled.

As to the rest, the results have been bittersweet for ruling PS Socialists.

Yes, the party in government has emerged as the overall winner – with over 34% of the votes – but the “great victory” (PM António Costa’s words) does not look great enough to assure an absolute majority in October’s national elections.

Leader writers explain that if Costa has been considering an ‘alliance’ with the centre-right for the next executive, this too is now ‘off the table’. The centre-right (PSD and CDS-PP) did far worse than they were imagining (22.6% and 6.2% respectively), while the winners of the day were Bloco de Esquerda and PAN (9.8% and a touch over 5%) – two of the government’s current ‘allies’ which swept it to power in 2015 after national elections that actually saw the PS come in second place (click here).

Explains director of Sábado Eduardo Damâso, bearing in mind October is fast approaching , what these elections have shown is that despite the fact he may not want it, António Costa is “well and truly tied to the parties of the ‘geringonça’ (the contraption government, buoyed up by left-wingers)”.

“Worse, the elections have produced a significant strengthening of Bloco de Esquerda, the party with which Costa and the PS have had the most difficulties”.

Thus “the chess game” underway till the nation goes to the polls for its next four years of government is “very open” – with the likelihood of PAN making further gains, and PCP/ CDU communists – traditionally a ‘reliable’ ally of the left – ‘weakened’ (exactly why no one wants to say, but it may have something to do with the ‘yuppie’ energy of the BE and PAN).

Other losers of the night included outspoken Marinho e Pinto, the MEP who deserted his party MPT almost the minute he was elected in 2014, and created a new party.

MPT has also lost its seat in Strasbourg.

As for the Aliança party, led by former prime minister Pedro Santana Lopes – all the campaigning and effort led precisely nowhere: not one MEP.

And while millions of Portuguese will possibly not give last Sunday a backwards glance, all those involved in trying to encourage people to go out and vote have bemoaned the ‘crushing defeat for democracy’ characterised by enough empty ballot papers to elect two MEPs.

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