On the 25th of October of 2021, after long negotiations between the left-wing parties, the Portuguese Government’s Budget for 2022 was rejected by the Parliament. The ruling Socialist Party (PS) had been dependent on either the Left Bloc (BE) or the Unitary Democratic Coalition (CDU) for the approval of each year’s Government Budgets since the 2019 elections. In October of last year, these two parties sided with their right-wing counterparts and voted against the government’s 2022 State Budget. Consequently, on the 5th of December, President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa officially decreed the dissolution of the Parliament and called for snap legislative elections on the 30th of January.
What did the polls say?
On the day of the election, the average of polls created by Rádio Renascença put the Socialist Party ahead in the polls with 36 % of the vote and the main opposition party, the Social Democrats, with 32.3% of the vote. Nobody could predict the winner of the election since both parties were within the margin of error, and most political analysts did not expect a defining result until long into the early morning of the next day. It was also clear that no party was polling close enough to obtain an absolute majority and the election would result in a hung parliament. The only question was: which party would come in first place?
As the exit polls came out at 8:00 pm on the main four news channels in Portugal, everyone could see that the ruling Socialist Party was on their way to a landslide victory over the Social Democrats. By late night on election day, the news networks announced the Prime Minister party had elected a majority of the deputies of the Assembleia da República and would be able to govern without the support of any other political party, a rare phenomenon in recent political history in Portugal.
The results are still provisional but as of this moment, the Socialist Party won 41.7% of the vote and elected 117 deputies (116 needed for a majority) while the Social Democrats had 29% of the vote and elected 76 deputies. In third-place, came the right-wing populist party Chega, and in fourth-place came the social and economic liberal party, Iniciativa Liberal. As for the two old partners of the government, the Left Block and the CDU lost a combined 355 thousand votes compared to the 2019 election which resulted in a reduction in their number of deputies from 31 to 11. In seventh place came the conservative Popular Party with 1.9% of the vote and, because of the characteristics of the electoral system, failed to elect a deputy for the first time since the 1974 democratic revolution. In eighth and ninth place came the animalists party PAN and the eco-socialists Livre respectively, who gathered enough support in the district of Lisbon to elected 1 deputy each.
Socialist Party’s proposals for the next 4 years
Let us look at what the Socialist Party, also known as PS, defends in its electoral program on three key essential points; economic, social, and foreign policies. The program is 122 pages long, so it is impossible to cover everything, but we will try to go over the most important parts.
1. Economic policies
One of the most important economic and fiscal policies proposed by the governed is the creation of two additional income tax (IRS) brackets, which would give a 150 million euros tax break to the middle class and increase the progressivity of the tax. Additionally, PS proposes to increase the time span from 3 to 5 years of the IRS Jovem, a tax benefit that reduces income taxes paid by young people by an annual average of 22%. As for the minimum wage, PS defends an increase from the current 705 euros per month to 900 by 2026. Another target is the 20% increase in the average income of Portuguese workers over the next 4 years.
Regarding the government debt, which is one of the largest in Europe, PS promises to continue its policy of aiming towards a balanced budget and to reduce the debt to GDP ratio from 127.5% to 110% by 2026.
In terms of economic growth, PS does not specify concrete numbers but aims to have the GDP per capita of Portugal converge with Europe by growing 1% above the Eurozone and 0.5% above the European Union averages.
2. Social Policies
Regarding education, PS aims to invest in new educational practices and scientific-pedagogical training, as well as improving the access to higher education. The party also proposes to invest in the National Healthcare Service by constructing or renovating 100 healthcare units, increasing primary care centers and strengthening palliative and continued care, as well as issues concerning mental health.
As for the climate crisis, the only target for 2026 is to increase to 80% the weight of renewables on energy production, however, the program sets a 55% cut on greenhouse emissions by 2030.
Although the parliament had already voted to legalize euthanasia last year, the veto by President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa in late November means the new parliament will have to vote on this topic again this year. The PS program does not mention this topic at all, but only 7 out of 108 socialist deputies voted against the measure last year, so it is likely to pass again in 2022 with the support of the Left Block and Iniciativa Liberal.
3. Foreign policy
Regarding the European Union, the Socialists want to continue to monitor the implementation of the 2021-2027 Multiannual Financial Framework and monitor the implementation of the Porto Social Committee that occurred last year during the Portuguese Presidency of the European Council.
As for the United Nations, the program aims to support the current reforms of the Secretary-General, elect Portugal to the UN Security Council in the biennium 2027-2028, and host the second World Oceans Conference in Lisbon this year.
In terms of bilateral relations, the program of PS wants Portugal to give priority to nearby countries, such as Spain, the UK, France, Italy, and the US. The latter is important to affirm the country’s role in being a diplomatic bridge between Europe and North America. The program also defends a reinforcement of our diplomatic network by the opening of new embassies in some countries in Africa and Asia.
What will happen now?
It is impossible to predict if the Socialist Party will be able to implement the proposals or reach the targets we can find on their electoral program, but for the first time in Antonio Costa’s premiership, his party will be able to pass laws and the government budget without the support of any other political party, meaning the responsibility of what happens in the next 4 years is now, almost for its entirety, the responsibility of the Prime Minister and his party. In 2026, or maybe even earlier, all Portuguese voters will once again head to the polls and decide whether they have indeed delivered on their promises.
Sources: RTP, Diário de Notícias, Electoral Programs of PS, BE, CDU, CDS, IL, PAN, “Livre” and “Chega”, Público, Jornal Económico, Jornal de Notícias, Expresso, Electoral Program of PSD
João Sande e Castro
Maria Mendes Silva