Socialists return – without absolute majority, requiring new agreement with Left

Portugal’s PS Socialist party has been returned to power – albeit without the absolute majority they craved – in one of the lowest election turn-outs since the implantation of democracy.

As votes were still coming in, official estimates were suggesting abstention looks to have been “between 44% and 49%”.

That’s ‘almost 50% down’ on the turnout in 1975 after Portugal emerged from nearly four decades of dictatorship.

But nearly all parties were trying to make the best of the situation, with prime minister António Costa saying it was clear the Portuguese liked the arrangement of the last four years – the so-called contraption government, buoyed up by radical left-wing parties.

As dust settles and final numbers are being confirmed, the issue is ‘which left wing parties’.

PAN – the up-and-coming People Animals Nature party – has ‘stormed to success’ by quadrupling its presence in parliament (up from just one MP to four). It’s likely the PS will try to forge a deal there, as it may with another ‘newbie on the block’ like Livre which has just succeeded in electing its first MP.

PSD – traditionally the main opposition party – is still ‘hanging in’ there as the second political force, but visibly reduced and as far from any kind of election victory as party members could have hoped for.

President Rui Rio has nonetheless refused to interpret the results as ‘disaster’, saying it has maintained almost 28% of the national vote and this was better than he’d imagined.

How long Mr Rio can stay leading his centre-right opposition remains to be seen. Observador suggests critics led by Luís Montenegro (who almost forced a coup earlier this year click here) will be waiting for their next chance to topple him.

But for the ‘shocks’ of the night, most high-profile was the resignation of CDS leader Assunção Cristas, whose party that once ‘shared’ power with the PSD has been reduced to a whisper of its former self, losing no less than 13 MPs since 2015 (ie down now to just 5).

Heloísa Apolónia, the ecologist MP who has been sitting in parliament since 1991 also lost the seat she was fighting for, for the CDU in Leiria.

Good news however came for Chega (national conservatives) and Iniciativa Liberal which both clinched one seat each for the first time.

Meantime, the left-wing allies of the ‘contraption government’ – Bloco de Esquerda and PCP communists – are ‘hedging their bets’. Neither have done ‘well’. BE has retained its 19 MPs but made no gains, while PCP has actually lost ground, losing five MPs and down now to 12.

The next few days will be pivotal. Indeed, the ‘hard nucleus’ of the PS was described as discussing which party/ies to strike a deal with as early as Sunday afternoon.

Braving out the results in Lisbon last night, infrastructures minister Pedro Nuno Santos said: “We have already governed for four years without an absolute majority, and we did it well and with stability. There is no reason why this shouldn’t happen in the next four years”.

Needless to say, there is every reason, as outlined by both prime minister Costa – as he closed the election campaign on Friday – and president Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa (click here).

For a detailed analysis of the results and what they mean, see our paper edition out on Thursday.

As for ‘final numbers’, they are being pegged at 106 MPs for the PS (that’s up 20 from 2015), 77 for PSD (down 25), 19 for BE, 12 for PCP communists (5 less than in 2015), 5 for CDS-PP, 4 for PAN and 1 MP each for Iniciativa Liberal, Chega and Livre.

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