30 January 2022
Prime Minister António Costa’s Socialist Party (PS) won the elections with 41.7% of the vote (+5.3% from 2019), gaining an absolute majority in parliament. The government will thus continue under PS leadership for a third term, but this time around Costa will not need to seek support from other left-wing parties.
The far-right party Chega (CH) also did well, as anticipated in the polls, and landed in third place with 7.2% of the vote, resulting in a major increase in representation with 12 seats (an 11-seat gain from 2019). Another winner in the elections was the right-wing libertarian Liberal Iniative (IL), which won 5% of the vote and 8 seats (gaining 7 seats from 2019). This is notable as IL was only founded in 2017 and this is its second-ever parliamentary run.
The center-right Social Democratic Party (PPD/PSD) underperformed polling will remain the largest opposition party with 27.8% of the vote and 71 seats (a 6-seat loss from 2019). The left bloc (BE) and the Unitary Democratic Coalition (CDU), a coalition of communists and the Greens, received 4.5% (-5% from 2019) and 4.4% of the vote (-1.9% from 2019) respectively. This gave BE 5 seats (a loss of 14 seats) and the CDU 6 seats (a loss of 6 seats).
Voter turnout was 58%.
- Unicameral parliament in a semi-presidential representative democratic republic.
- 230 members directly elected for 4-year terms to parliament (Assembly of the Republic) by closed-list proportional representation, with no voting threshold to enter; members are elected from 22 multi-member constituencies, including autonomous regions of the Azores and Madeira.
- The Prime minister and cabinet are appointed by the President based on electoral results.
- Current government: Minority government led by incumbent Prime Minister António Costa (PS). Costa has led two governments and been PM since 2015.
- Parliament was dissolved and snap elections announced as a result of a rejected state budget in autumn 2021.
Up to 20 political parties running, but contending parties differ by constituency. Main parties:
- Socialist Party (PS): social-democratic, progressive, center-left party; campaigns for economic and fiscal responsibility regarding government spending; pro-Europe; pro-NATO, committed to increasing defense spending to 2% GDP.
- Social Democratic Party (PSD): center-right, liberal-conservative party; largest opposition party, party leader Rui Rio is the former mayor of the city of Porto; known for introducing austerity measures during the eurozone crisis; campaigns for tax cuts; pro-Europe.
- Left Bloc (BE): socialist, left-wing party, was part of an informal alliance with the Socialist Party until 2021 budget vote; critical of capitalism; proposed a number of socially liberal laws, including support of same-sex marriage; critical of the EU and seeks reform but also critical of rising populism, nationalism, and xenophobia in Europe; perceived as a ‘new left’ party similar to Greece’s Syriza and Spain’s Podemos; supports withdrawal from NATO and opposes EU defense.
- CHEGA/Enough (CH): Nationalist, far-right party; socially conservative; anti-corruption and anti-establishment; party leader André Ventura came third in the presidential election in 2021.
- Unitary Democratic Coalition (CDU): alliance of the Communist Party and The Greens party; left-wing, eco-socialist coalition; advocates exiting NATO and the EU.
- People-Animals-Nature (PAN): Green, center-left party; centered around animal welfare; pro-Europe; abstained in the vote on the state budget in an effort to uphold political stability.
Impact on U.S. Interests
- The United States is the largest non-EU trading partner for Portugal. Portuguese exports in goods to the United States reached $4.5 billion in 2021; imported goods from the United States were worth $2 billion in 2021.
- Portugal is a founding member of NATO and hosts the command Naval Striking and Support Forces NATO (STRIKFORNATO), the Joint Analysis and Lessons Learned Centre (JALLC), and the NCI Academy (a training center for NATO Communications and Information Agency (NCI)). Portugal hosted the Lisbon Summit in 2010, where the present Strategic Concept for NATO was formed.
- Portugal has participated in NATO missions and operations in Afghanistan, the Western Balkans, the Mediterranean (combating terrorism), and in the Indian Ocean (combating piracy). Portugal co-leads the Baltic Air Policing mission together with Denmark.
- The 65th Air Force Base Group of the U.S. Air Force operates from the Portuguese airfield of Lajes Field on Terceira Island in the Azores.
- Portugal is an observer to the Organization of American States.
Key Issues to Watch
- Prime Minister Costa's lack of support from the Left Bloc and Communist party in the 2021 budget vote is raising questions about how a future government could be formed if the Socialist Party wins with a narrow margin, as polls predict. This would make Costa's pledge to raise the monthly minimum wage to €1,000 (approximately $1,115) by 2026 more difficult to achieve, among other priorities.
- Portugal is a significant beneficiary of the EU recovery fund, scheduled to receive a total €16.6 billion (approximately $18.5 billion) in grants and loans. This has sparked a discussion about the need for political and financial stability to protect future economic growth.
- The National Health System has been a key substantive theme in the pre-election debates, especially amid the Covid-19 pandemic; right-wing parties have supported opening the system up to more private health providers.
- Optimistic polling in favor of far-right Chega has led to a debate in foreign media over Portugal's possible turn toward populism. Support for CH could have practical implications for opposition PSD if they try to find a majority for a right-leaning government. Smaller parties will be determining for forming a majority, both for PSD and PS.
- Covid-19 has impacted voting as well: an early voting option was added and, as a special measure to enable voting during the Omicron wave, infected and quarantined voters can cast their ballot in person during the last hour of voting on election day.