Portugal’s President Wins Re-election, but Far Right Gains


Portugal’s president was re-elected on Sunday to a second term in office, but the vote also confirmed the rise of a far-right politician who formed his party less than two years ago.

Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, Portugal’s center-right president, secured a new, five-year term after winning about 61 percent of the vote.

The election on Sunday took place in extraordinary circumstances, coming less than two weeks after the Portuguese government put the country back under lockdown orders as a new wave of the coronavirus threatened to overwhelm hospitals.

The Socialist candidate, Ana Gomes, won about 13 percent of the vote, just ahead of André Ventura, a far-right candidate who got almost 12 percent of the vote, the results showed.

Mr. Ventura’s performance made clear that the far-right, ultranationalist leader has emerged as a force in Portugal. His anti-migration campaign and other demands in large part mirror those of more longstanding far-right politicians like Marine Le Pen of France.

Mr. Ventura, 38, a lawyer by training who first gained fame as a soccer commentator, was the first lawmaker to win a seat in Parliament for his newly formed party, Chega!, which means “enough.” Until that victory, in 2019, Portugal had long stood out in Europe for not having a far-right presence in its legislature.

Late on Sunday, Mr. Rebelo de Sousa paid tribute to the victims of the pandemic and thanked voters for re-electing him. He acknowledged that “this now-renewed confidence is anything but a blank check.”

Mr. Ventura, celebrating “a historic night,” cast the vote as a breakthrough for his party, which he described as “openly anti-system.”

Last year in Portugal, the Commission for Equality and Against Racial Discrimination fined Mr. Ventura for comments that he had posted on social media, particularly against the Roma community. Mr. Ventura campaigned on issues such as imposing stronger prison sentences for sex offenders and reducing the number and salaries of lawmakers, as part of his broader attack on the privileges enjoyed by Portugal’s elite.

Mr. Rebelo de Sousa, 72, appeared a strong favorite to be re-elected as president, a role that is secondary in Portugal to that of the government, which runs the country day to day and is led by Prime Minister António Costa, a Socialist.

The president, however, is more than a ceremonial figure, and has a role over foreign policy and national security as commander of the armed forces, as well as the power to dissolve Parliament and veto some legislation.

In the days ahead, Mr. Rebelo de Sousa will need to decide whether to approve or block a recent law passed by lawmakers permitting euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide; the Catholic Church opposed it. The president could also seek a review of the law by Portugal’s Constitutional Court.

Turnout on Sunday was about 39 percent, according to the preliminary results, a sign that many registered voters stayed home amid concerns about the new wave of the coronavirus. The lockdown requires residents to stay indoors except for special reasons.

Last week, the government also decided to shutter schools and universities, in addition to the closure of nonessential stores already in effect.

After visiting a hospital last week, Mr. Rebelo de Sousa warned that the surge in infections was creating “big pressure on health care structures that we had not seen in March.” That, he warned, may lead to “a much longer lockdown” than the one-month period initially established by the government.

Source : Nytimes