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Portugal’s Far Right Surges In Biggest Election Since Dictatorship Ended 50 Years Ago

Chega leader Andre Ventura addresses supporters at Marriot Hotel, where the party holds the election night event, in Lisbon on March 10, 2024.
Chega leader Andre Ventura addresses supporters at Marriot Hotel, where the party holds the election night event, in Lisbon on March 10, 2024. ANDRE DIAS NOBRE via Getty Images

Portugal’s far right is set to take on its biggest role in governing the country since the fall of the fascist Estado Novo regime 50 years ago after quadrupling its bloc of lawmakers in the national Parliament. 

The results of Sunday’s election are not yet final, but by Monday morning showed the hardline party Chega had won at least 48 of the parliament’s 230 seats, up from 12. The center-right Democratic Alliance — led by the Social Democrats with a couple of tiny conservative parties — secured 79 seats. The Socialists claimed 77. 

Chega — Portuguese for “enough” — formed just five years ago as a right-wing faction of the traditional center-right Social Democrats split off under the leadership of Andre Ventura, a charismatic former sportscaster who gained notoriety by attacking gay rights and Portugal’s tiny Roma minority. 

Its rise to power over the last few elections shocked many in a country that had seemed immune to the strain of bombastic populism animating the political right in France, the Netherlands and Germany, inoculated by such recent memories of authoritarian rule. 

But Chega’s anti-establishment rhetoric found new purchase among Portuguese voters after the long-ruling Socialist Party government collapsed in November amid a corruption scandal involving alleged backroom deals for major green infrastructure projects.

Portugal's Social Democratic Party (PSD) and Democratic Alliance (AD) leader Luis Montenegro speaks following the result of a general election in Lisbon, Portugal, March 11.
Portugal's Social Democratic Party (PSD) and Democratic Alliance (AD) leader Luis Montenegro speaks following the result of a general election in Lisbon, Portugal, March 11. Anadolu via Getty Images

Ahead of Sunday’s snap election, Chega papered the country’s traffic circles with billboards pitching Ventura as the man to “cleanse” Portugal’s political class, which the far-right blamed for everything from stagnant wages to high housing costs. 

Luis Montenegro, leader of the Social Democratic Party, had previously ruled out a coalition with the far right. Without Chega, however, the Democratic Alliance does not have enough votes to command a parliamentary majority. 

While Montenegro’s chief rival, Pedro Nuno Santos, conceded defeat after his center-left Socialist Party’s nine-year run came to an end, he refused to support the center-right coalition’s agenda, including across-the-board tax cuts, according to Reuters.

Ventura told reporters that Sunday’s vote “clearly showed” Portuguese voters wanted a Democratic Alliance that includes Chega. If the center-right refuses to work with Chega and cannot govern, Ventura said the blame will fall on Montenegro.

If Montenegro is unable to form a government, he could end up resigning, clearing the way for a party leader with a different view of Chega.

“The new [Social Democrat] leader may feel differently about the opportunity of governing along with Chega,” said José Santana Pereira, an associate professor of political science at the University Institute of Lisbon. 

It’s difficult to tell what Chega’s priorities would be in a government. Unlike its allied far-right movements elsewhere in Europe, the Portuguese hardliners support the European Union and take relatively moderate positions on immigration. While the party’s nostalgia for Portugal’s imperial past has attracted conservative Catholics, Ventura has said Chega would not reopen the debate on the legality of abortion. 

Socialist Party leader Pedro Nuno Santos delivers a speech during the election campaign closing rally in Almada, south of Lisbon, Friday, March 8.
Socialist Party leader Pedro Nuno Santos delivers a speech during the election campaign closing rally in Almada, south of Lisbon, Friday, March 8. via Associated Press

“Chega doesn’t present a clear political program, so it’s very difficult to see,” António Costa Pinto, a research professor at the University of Lisbon’s Institute of Social Sciences, told HuffPost ahead of the election. “Chega is changing its position every day. It’s like Donald Trump.”

The election notches another victory for Europe’s far right. 

Italy’s Giorgia Meloni, who grew up as part of a youth group descended from dictator Benito Mussolini’s political machine, took power in late 2022 and just survived a major electoral test in a local vote. 

Despite extremist statements vowing to ban Muslim houses of worship, the Netherlands’ Geert Wilders won a stunning upset in November’s election just weeks after Portugal’s corruption scandal erupted. 

The radical Alternative for Germany party made major gains in last year’s election, and polls show the far-right movement in second place ahead of next year’s vote. 

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