Huge campaign against abstention as Portugal goes to the polls

As Portugal goes to the polls, media outlets and politicians themselves have been exhorting all those with voting rights to ‘go out and exercise them’.

With ruling Socialists set to be returned, the big question is ‘with what kind of clout?’

The more radical ‘allies’ that buoyed up the last government are getting testy and prime minister António Costa admitted on Friday – the last day of the election campaign – that unless voters put their trust in his party, the next government would be unlikely to survive a full four-year term.

“Give the PS more strength so we can have a government for the full legislature and not one with its days limited to the next two years”, he appealed to an audience of party faithful in Lisbon.

“Give the PS more strength so we can have a government with the capacity to listen, negotiate, reach agreement but also to say ‘no’ when it’s necessary to say ‘no’ in the name of national interest”.

Observers might say this last statement rather gave the game away in a country rife with environmental issues – particularly surrounding the government’s zeal to sign away lithium mining rights ‘for the good of the economy’.

Costa will certainly have had in mind the study by Dutch investment bank ING that forecasts that if the PS doesn’t clinch an absolute majority, the country could end up becoming as ungovernable as neighbouring, Spain – where prime minister Pedro Sanchez has yet again failed to form a coalition government that could stay the course.

For now, it’s a question of ‘wait and see’: the weather is ‘perfect’ for a good turnout (perhaps too perfect?), there are more voters this time round than ever before (10,811,436), and appeals and exhortations for them to ‘get out there and vote’ are being played relentlessly over television and radio.

Even President Marcelo has joined the push, saying people need to respond to this democratic exercise in much greater numbers than they did for the European elections last May.

“Worrying economic and political signs in the world and in Europe are clearer today than they were in May”, he said. “The immediate relationship between the EU and Great Britain is less defined than it was in May. The effects of the international environment on our economy will be certainly important in the next four year period” in which the government “will have to overcome the negative effects of falling birthrates and an aging population, climate change and crises from outside”.

These elections, stressed Marcelo, will define “four decisive years of life in Portugal”.

And in the main foreign residents – unless they have succeeded in obtaining Portuguese nationality – have absolutely no say in them at all.

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