Portugal elections: André Ventura, one-time sports pundit, runs for office

  • By Alison Roberts
  • BBC News, Lisbon

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André Ventura (center) and his far-right Chega party are now at 16% in the polls, ahead of Sunday’s parliamentary elections

Friday is the last day of campaigning for the parliamentary elections in Portugal this Sunday.

The spotlight is on the far-right Chega (Enough) party and the unprecedented role it could play in national politics, even as it remains only the third-largest force in parliament.

Its leader, André Ventura, a former councilor of the center-right Social Democratic Party (PSD) and former priest-in-training who made his name on national television commentating on football, has made corruption and record immigration the focus of viral campaigns on social media. .

First elected to parliament in 2019, he has proven to be a deft performer whose drastic policy shifts have done more to broaden Chega’s base than undermine his credibility.

In criminal justice, where he once demanded chemical castration of rapists, he now poses as a champion of police officers demonstrating for better pay; in education and health, where Chega called on the state to bow out almost completely, he is now proposing more modest reforms while promising higher pensions.

Sunday’s early elections came after Socialist Prime Minister António Costa resigned after being embroiled in an investigation into irregularities in state contracts, giving Mr Ventura more ammunition for his campaign.

A separate scandal in Madeira toppled the PSD regional government, making Mr Ventura’s old party appear to be part of the problem.

Image source, Getty Images

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António Costa (right) has supported ally Pedro Nuno Santos (center) in the elections

Polls ahead of Sunday’s elections show the PSD-dominated Democratic Alliance (AD) narrowly ahead of the Socialist Party (PS), but falling short of a majority in parliament, even with the smaller Liberal Initiative (IL).

Chega is at 16% or more (compared to 7% in the 2022 parliamentary elections) and is focusing on what an AD minority government would have to do to stay in power.

PSD leader Luís Montenegro repeated “no means no” when asked whether he would seek Chega’s support for the AD program of income tax cuts and free market reforms.

In a direct confrontation with Mr Ventura on television, he dismissed his opponent as “xenophobic, racist and demagogic”.

But if an AD minority government survives until October, it may have to turn to Chega.

“When a government presents a budget, it negotiates with all parliamentary parties,” said Ana Sá Lopes, senior political journalist for the Público newspaper. “He will give some things to Chega, we just don’t know what.”

If instead the Socialists – now led by Pedro Nuno Santos, an energetic former minister under Costa – become the largest party after eight years in power, it could trigger a new groundswell of support for Chega.

“If the PSD does not win, one of my nightmares is what happened in France, where the two main parties disappeared,” said Ana Sá Lopes, recalling how the far right emerged as the main opposition there.

“I’m afraid of the France scenario, but we have to be prepared for it.”

Image source, Getty Images

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About 10.8 million people are eligible to vote in Sunday’s poll

José Peralta, a hotel receptionist in central Lisbon taking a break to watch waving campaigners pass by, summed up what many voters think about government scandals and the state of the country.

“There are a lot of people making money from it, and Portugal cannot make progress that way,” he said.

“Chega may only say what people like to hear, but what they say is still true, while the parties that were in government do not address the problems and do not like people talking about them.”

The Portuguese economy grew by 2.3% last year, faster than most other countries in the European Union, and inflation has fallen sharply. But real incomes are slowly returning to pre-pandemic levels.

Costa came to power in 2015 with the support of far-left parties, promising to “turn the page” on the cuts implemented by the previous PSD-led government as part of a eurozone bailout when investors Portuguese debts shunned.

A tourism boom then fueled an economic recovery until Covid hit, and then again, but a side effect was rising rents and property prices.

Image source, Getty Images

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Tourism has brought Portugal out of the corona crisis, but it has also pushed up rental and real estate prices

The PS government continued its predecessor’s efforts to reduce the debt burden, losing support from the far left but securing re-election in 2022, now with a majority.

Credit rating agencies that once classified Portugal’s debt as ‘junk’ now rate it ‘A’ – but the spending squeeze that made this possible has contributed to staffing problems and a wave of public sector strikes.

“There is no shortage of doctors in Portugal, but there is a shortage of doctors in the National Health Service, where 1.7 million people still do not have a GP and hospital appointments and operations are postponed,” the doctors’ union FNAM emphasizes. this week in his latest contribution against the government.

A total of 10.8 million people are registered to vote in the elections, in Portugal and abroad, to elect 230 parliamentarians.

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