Snap Portugal’s elections and the dizzying rise of right-wing CHEGA

After taking just 1 seat in the 2019 vote, polls showed CHEGA (Enough) party poised to claim up to 10 times that in Sunday’s elections. It won 7,15% of the vote, thus becoming the country’s third-largest parliamentary force, and virtually wiping out the whole far-left.

Portugal’s, Snap Portugal’s elections and the dizzying rise of right-wing CHEGA

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Portugal’s general vote on Sunday, January 30, was expected to see conservative right-wing CHEGA party secure 10 times more seats than in 2019. It did that, and some more.

“CHEGA promised and delivered: we are Portugal’s third political force!” Ventura said, amid a cheering packed Merriot hotel conference room in Lisbon.

Portugal’s, Snap Portugal’s elections and the dizzying rise of right-wing CHEGA
In his speech, the leader of CHEGA didn’t mince his words: “António Costa, I’m coming for you now!” (photo internet reproduction)

The early election was triggered last December after the fragile – and doomed to collapse – deal between Prime Minister António Costa’s minority Socialist government and its allies in the Portuguese Communist party and the Left Bloc broke down during negotiations to pass the 2022 budget.

Not only did the rupture end the alliance known as the “geringonça” – or improvised solution – which had made Portugal a rare beacon of European social democracy, it also yielded an election that could see the conservative right-wing CHEGA party become the third biggest group in parliament.

Although the polls in recent days showed a close race for first place between Costa’s Socialists (PS) and the centre-right Social Democrats (PSD), the latter appeared to be pulling ahead. The Socialist Party won 42% of seats in the parliamentary elections yesterday.

However, leading up to the elections, neither the PS nor the PSD were expected to secure an overall majority, meaning that deals would need to be struck and alliances forged by whichever party won the most votes.

While PSD leader Rui Rio once ruled out including CHEGA in any coalition, his discourse changed over time, making room for the party to play a big role in shaping and securing a PSD government.

CHEGA owes “this victory to our work, and that of hundreds of thousands of Portuguese,” who “despite every day being lied to and attacked by other political parties,” didn’t “let themselves be fooled.”

The “message” was “direct,” Ventura assured: “We want CHEGA as the solution to a right-wing government,” he added. In total, the party elected 12 deputies.

After taking just 1 seat in the 2019 vote, polls showed CHEGA (Enough) party poised to claim up to 10 times that in Sunday’s elections. It won 7,15% of the vote, thus becoming the country’s third-largest parliamentary force, and virtually wiping out the whole far-left.

“If the party manages to be the third political force in parliament or, ‘at the limit’, the fourth political force, as of January 30, it will begin to fight to be the real and the only opposition to the Socialist Government,” said CHEGA leader André Ventura while campaigning.

CHEGA’s flagships since its 2 years of foundation is the subsidy dependence of certain minority groups – getting benefits from the state compared to the middle classes who are paying for them, and that only those paying into the system should receive them.

The other is corruption. It’s an important source of discontent in Portugal. Close to 90% of Portuguese believe there is corruption in the government, said watchdog Transparency International.

“Advisors who become consultants and mayors who become entrepreneurs and provide services to their own municipalities. The socialist tentacles that threatens us for another 4 years!” Ventura said in one of his campaign rallies, gathering thousands behind him while singing the national anthem.

Not surprisingly, CHEGA pledged to rattle the establishment, to such a point and through André Ventura’s “enfant terrible” stance and vociferous statements in and out of parliament that other candidates’ campaigns zoomed in on defamation, labeling the party as the far-right, “a new dictator in the making,” rather than presenting their own plans for the country.

“When a party annoys the whole system and challenges all vested interests, it means we are doing something right!” Ventura says.

UNAFRAID OF BEING ISOLATED BY THE RIGHT-WING

Ventura also criticized the PSD – “the right-wing failed to live up to its responsibilities” – for having spent the electoral campaign rejecting agreements with CHEGA: “They spent all their time saying that ‘not with Chega,’ and the result is clear: Yes, with Chega,” Ventura told a cheering crowd. “The main culprit of this is Rui Rio.”

At a CHEGA rally, supporter Larissa Gonçalves, a 26-year-old Brazilian-Portuguese, bore a party flag and said she agreed with some of Ventura’s claims. “Some work, while others sleep…We all have to contribute,” she said.

A CHEGA supporter immigrant in the UK, representing the Diaspora posted on social media in protest standing alongside the statue of the dictator “worshiped by the Portuguese left and far-left Karl Marx, who inspired and still inspires so much hatred, so many deaths and so much misery all over the world.”

“Dictatorship never again,” the man said, holding the CHEGA party flag.

In an interview with Brazil’s Terra, actress Maria Vieira, who has worked in Globo, is now a strong name within CHEGA. She said that she became the target of criticism and insults for declaring herself conservative and right-wing.

Winner of several awards, the artist says she is boycotted by the TV stations where she worked. Former colleagues have distanced themselves. Others take to social media to criticize her. On social networks, Maria has expressed admiration for President Jair Bolsonaro and contempt for the Brazilian left-wing.

Portugal’s, Snap Portugal’s elections and the dizzying rise of right-wing CHEGA
Actress Maria Vieira, who has worked in Globo, is now a strong name within CHEGA. (photo internet reproduction)

“I am currently a Municipal Deputy in Cascais, Mandated for the Non-European Electoral Circle (which obviously includes Brazil) and I am the 9th candidate for Parliamentary Deputy, in a list of 53 candidates for CHEGA.”

In Portugal, as in Brazil, most TV and press professionals are left-wing. Those who are on the other side of the political spectrum get little space to freely expose their thoughts.

THE FAR-RIGHT “GHOST”

André Ventura, the founding body and current members of CHEGA do not stem from the classic Portuguese far-right. They come from Ventura’s own personal network, from the grassroots of parliamentary parties (PS, PSD, CDS) and from abstentionism.

The dominant political culture of CHEGA’s founders is economic liberalism and conservative values.

André Ventura recurrently presents himself as the voice of the people betrayed by the system’s political elite trapped by political correctness. This emphasis is constant in CHEGA’s discourse.

PSD leader Rui Rio has little doubt: CHEGA “effectively has some extreme and populist profile positions,” but he rejects attaching other, harsher labels to the party. “I think it’s somewhat excessive to classify CHEGA as fascist or far-right.”

CONTROVERSY: PORTUGUESE AROUND THE WORLD

Everywhere there were protests from people who wanted to vote and couldn’t. In Spain, Luxemburg, France, Switzerland, Brazil and Angola – all over the Diaspora there were immigrants unable to express their wishes for their country at the ballot box.

The Secretary of State of Communities blamed them, claiming that they were not attentive to official communications.

The Prime Minister himself, António Costa, acknowledged that “information about procedures needs to be improved,” lamenting the convenient incident.