Portugal left wing history
The Third Portuguese Republic was implemented after the Carnation Revolution on April 25th, 1974. This movement overthrew the fascist regime that had been in power since 1933, established by António de Oliveira Salazar, the main figure of Estado Novo (“New State”).
The first democratic elections in 1975 were won by the Socialist Party (PS). Thereafter, the only parties with a majority in Parliament or with a respective prime minister were the socialists or the social-democrats (PSD). Other parties would only be part of the government through coalitions. Historically, Europe is categorized as moderate inclining towards social democracy.
In recent years, Europe, Portugal included, have witnessed a rise in radical right movements. Portugal’s main figure is Chega! (Enough!), a rightist, populist movement led by André Ventura. Although not the first party located further right of the Portuguese political spectrum, it was the first to gain notoriety and a seat in Parliament. The former National Renovating Party (PNR) is a self entitled far right party with very narrow public adherence.
André Ventura, born on January 15th, 1983, had a brief passage through the seminary (an attempt to follow priesthood), which fits some of his catholic conservative statements. Ventura ended up pursuing Law at Nova University of Lisbon, graduating with a 19/20 GPA. The PhD thesis he presented at Cork University criticized the stigmatisation of minorities and expressed his concerns on the expansion of repressive powers from the state.
In 2001, he joined the Social Democratic Party but only gained visibility in 2017 as a sports commentator on national television. This led to an invitation inside the party to run for the local elections of the Loures municipality. As a candidate, Ventura claimed that Roma people residing in Loures “live almost exclusively on public subsidies” and “think they are above the Rule of Law”. His declarations and hostile position over various social matters hindered the relationship with PSD leading to his disaffection from the party in 2018. In
April 2019 he founded Chega!. Representing it, André Ventura ran for the 2019 legislative elections (providing him a seat in Parliament), and is currently running for the 2021 presidential elections.
“The Portuguese far right party” built its marketing as an anti-system movement – it claims the establishment is corrupt and does not have the people’s best interests in mind. The party seeks to establish a new and Fourth Republic by, among other measures, implementing a new constitution, as can be read in its manifesto (2019). The latter is intensely economically liberal and endorses a minimalist State on, for instance, education and healthcare services. Its political program includes fiscal reforms: the abolishment of double taxation on corporate income; reduction of VAT; and the adoption of a “flat income tax”.
On the other hand, Chega is strongly conservative on societal issues, which include motions such as the prohibition of gay marriage, of LGBTQ+ propaganda, abortion or any situation that “violates human integrity”. Furthermore, its program introduces chemical castration as a legal punishment for convicted pedophiles, among other severe penalties. Chega recently affiliated to ID (Identity and Democracy), a European parliamentary group composed of nationalists, far-right parties and eurosceptics, namely Alternative for Germany, National Rally (Marine Le Pen) and Lega Nord (Matteo Salvini). The group stands for national differentiation and administrative preservation of autonomy, alternatively to a European selfhood. Chega first presented a candidate for the european elections in 2019, leading a coalition named Basta!. It failed to elect a MEP.
The latest October 2020 legislative poll, conducted by Aximage, placed it with 5,4% of vote intentions. This consistent growth was confirmed by the regional elections in the Azores. The party gained 5% of votes, fourth most voted. Two regional MPs were elected and with no clear majority of votes in the elections, these two will be fundamental for the configuration of the new regional government. The party has gained recognition and consolidated its political force.
Studies conducted to identify the typical voter of a far-right party in Europe concluded he is a young poorly qualified male. Generally, he is a worker or a small businessman, if not unemployed.
In Portugal, the first study to provide an identification of this typical voter was a poll published last February by ICS/ISCTE. Given the European context, it came to contrasting conclusions. The typical radical right elector in Portugal has qualifications above the mean of the Portuguese population, mainly middle-class, namely office employees living in metropolitan areas. Furthermore, the electorate is evenly split between male and female. According to CESOP, the voters of the party previously voted for the two main parties or abstained.
Reasons for Widespread Growth
Populism is a political approach, which strives to appeal to ordinary people who feel their concerns are disregarded. The 2008 crisis and subsequent stagnation significantly worsened the middle class. Their substantial tax burden and the subsidies paid to those who “do not respect the Rule of Law” lure them to Chega, as proven in the ICS/ISCTE poll.
André Ventura often appropriates the popular contempt with a dividing logic of “us” against “them”. There is a large share of society which, after being constantly immersed in scandals and corruption at the highest levels of Public Administrations, feel as if “all politicians are the same”. André Ventura’s concept is appealing to the average Portuguese, who possess a sense of distrust towards politicians in general, thus embracing the anti-system propaganda. This could be why Chega has developed a hostile environment with most parties. This, paired with its image as a xenophobic and racist party, influences other parties to distance themselves, afraid of an electoral backlash.
Cultural liberalization and imigration are pointed out as troubles by Chega. In its manifesto, there are many references to an ideological proselytism: the attempt to change people’s beliefs. This concept is referent to LGBTQ+, BLM and other movements, which Chega frequently lessens, attracting social conservatives and clashing with leftists.Likewise, Chega seeks to strain the process of granting Portuguese citizenship, standing fiercely against the recent Nationality Law, eventually enacted. Illegal immigration is adressed by Ventura, although the Portuguese electorate cannot relate to that issue as well as larger European countries: contrarily to what happened to countries such as Germany, Greece or Italy, the Portuguese borders have only had some minor predicaments with refugees, never a worrying affair. Therefore, regarding intercultural matters, the main argument brought up by the party has been directed towards the Roma people and others living on subsidies. The leader of the party often accuses them of not complying with Portuguese laws, women’s and marriage rights, as well as respect for authority. During the pandemic, Ventura supported a special confinement for a Roma community outside a small city that refused to be subject to testing.
Nonetheless, the main explanation regarding the rampant rise of this party is the spotlight offered by the media in general, and the wideness of Ventura’s presence in social media. There have been weekly constant mentions and polemics around his name and party. Correspondingly, that has been the method chosen by European far-right parties which appears to be successful. Also, the fact that mainstream parties commonly criticize him helps the branding of the party as the solution for a damaged structure (given the “system” is against him, he should then be considered “anti-system”).
Portugal is not an exception anymore. In 2018, it belonged to a short list of countries in the EU without radical right representation in the Parliament. Today, it is another example of a substantial expansion of such a movement in a compact period of time. Nonetheless, it is important to say that Chega is not the typical far right party, for the latter (former PNR) has failed and lost vote intention to the earlier. The death penalty, a more extreme proposal, was presented and failled to gather internal support. Some claim the party is imploding due to an even more radical branch that starts to label Chega as another conventional party.