April 13, 2024

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Will the far right make gains?

Will the far right make gains?

As far-right parties gain momentum across Europe, Portugal has long stood out as an exception. One by one, other countries seen as immune to extremism saw far-right parties enter parliament: the AfD won its first parliamentary seats in 2017; Two years later, Spain's Vox party followed suit. These parties joined established parties in Austria, France, the Netherlands, Sweden and elsewhere, and quickly consolidated their position in their countries' political landscapes.

As far-right parties gain momentum across Europe, Portugal has long stood out as an exception. One by one, other countries seen as immune to extremism saw far-right parties enter parliament: the AfD won its first parliamentary seats in 2017; Two years later, Spain's Vox party followed suit. These parties joined established parties in Austria, France, the Netherlands, Sweden and elsewhere, and quickly consolidated their position in their countries' political landscapes.

But in Portugal, a handful of small far-right parties have tried to gain serious influence over the past five decades since the 1974 revolution that toppled the country's dictatorship. When Chega, a far-right party led by Andre Ventura, burst onto the scene in 2019, it seemed likely to face the same headwinds as its predecessors.

But the dynamics of the election campaign ahead of early legislative elections scheduled for March 10 are evidence that the political landscape is changing in this country of 10 million people. according to Last ballot, Chiga (“enough”) could receive nearly 20 percent of the votes. With the center-left Socialists and center-right Social Democrats vying for first place, Chega could end up being the kingmaker in the next government if, as expected, neither of the two main parties gets enough seats to form a majority. The results will serve as the latest data point in the rise of the far right across the continent ahead of European Parliament elections in June.

Ventura, a 41-year-old former TV soccer commentator, was promoting the message that “Portugal needs a clean-up,” driven by a perfect storm of factors, including Resignation related to corruption These elections saw the rise of Prime Minister Antonio Costa late last year, growing frustration with the political system, and a shift to the right among young voters. A wide-ranging corruption investigation into members of Costa's Socialist government led to elections this month and pushed them forward Newfound support That's enough.

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As a result, when it comes to the far right, Portugal is no longer an outlier. In fact, it was not immune to far-right politics, experts say, but it did not have the right moment or the right leader to take advantage of it.

However, since the 1974 revolution, a confluence of historical factors has helped limit the ability of the far right to gain further traction in Portugal. One of these factors was the nature of the revolution itself, which was a reaction to the conservative dictatorship. The revolution, largely led by left-leaning movements, prevented “anything to the right of the mainstream right from emerging for a very long time,” said Luca Manucci, a political scientist at the University of Lisbon. “But it does not mean that these parties did not exist.”

Portugal's long history of immigration from its former colonies, such as Brazil, Cape Verde and Angola, also means that immigration has been less divisive here than in many other European countries. “Immigration is almost not political in Portugal at all,” said Leah Hine, who researches the far right in Portugal alongside Manucci. “This has somewhat restricted Chega in the way they can act as other far-right populist parties act in other countries.”

Five years ago, Chega had little success at the national level. In the 2019 elections, only the newly established party won 1.3 percent of votes and one electoral district in Parliament: Ventura, located outside Lisbon. It may not have been a strong performance, but it was a historic first and gave Ventura a springboard into the political spotlight.

Ventura has all the right characteristics to attract voters. As Antonio Costa Pinto, a political scientist at the University of Lisbon’s Institute of Social Sciences, said: “Ventura He is the party.”

Ventura belonged to the center-right Social Democratic Party, giving him the deceptive appearance of respectability needed to win over a broader range of voters. He broke with the Social Democratic Party in 2018 after a failed election campaign for mayor near Lisbon in 2017, during which he adopted harsh anti-Roma rhetoric, a message he built on as an MP. Ventura refers to Portugal's Roma population, who have been present in the country for centuries, as “criminal“, arguing that they are disproportionately dependent on government benefits.

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Ventura also built his persona on his willingness to say things other politicians wouldn't say. “He presented a new kind of political discourse, an anti-elite political discourse, which is the typical far-right populist recipe,” Pinto said. Furthermore, Ventura's role as a professional soccer commentator made him known throughout the country. “The moment he created Chiga, all the cameras were on him,” Manucci said.

In the 2022 elections, Chiga attracted increasing attention on the national stage, winning 12 seats and 7.2 percent of the vote. Since then, Ventura has been able to capitalize on the A flock of voters Dissatisfied with the Portuguese political system, including young people and many who have never voted before.

More recent migration wave – the number of people of foreign origin living in Portugal rose For the seventh year in a row in 2022 – it also allowed Ventura and Chega to begin exploiting an issue that has long played a secondary role in Portuguese politics. Ventura has called for tougher penalties for illegal immigration. saying It is “destroying Europe”. called for “Radically reducing the Islamic presence in the European Union.”

Chega also pledged to “put an end to corruption” among Portugal's political elite – a slogan found on his election campaign posters plastered throughout Lisbon. This message resonates with voters in elections in which corruption plays a central role. Costa, the prime minister, resigned last November after police arrested his chief of staff and raided his residence and government buildings in connection with allegations of influence peddling in Portugal's lithium mining industry. (Costa himself has not been accused of any wrongdoing.) Another former socialist prime minister, José Socrates, will take over as prime minister. trial to Separate corruption scandal.

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“When a party tells everyone that the elites are corrupt, then the elites We are “Corruption can only fall into the hands of the extreme right,” Manucci said.

It is clear that Ventura sees himself as part of an international far-right movement. After Javier Miley won Argentina's presidential elections in November 2023, Ventura took over to publish On X, previously Twitter: “The battle to defend society is taking place in several regions, and in Argentina the first battle has been won!” He recently told Financial Times He considers the far-right Italian leader Matteo Salvini a “very good friend” and that he has a “great relationship” with the Dutch politician Geert Wilders, whose far-right Freedom Party leads. He came first In the Dutch parliamentary elections in November. “I think we are united,” Ventura said. “we are strong.”

Daphne Halikopoulou, a professor of comparative politics at York University who focuses on far-right parties, said Portugal is part of the “unfortunate pattern of the far right that is growing everywhere.” As the European Parliament elections approach, the major gains made by the far right in the country – along with the growing momentum of similar parties across the continent – ​​will be seen as an indicator of political trends across the continent, driven by anti-immigrant and anti-immigrant sentiment. Establishment populism and high-cost crises.

These parties are not only growing in many countries, but are also becoming increasingly normal, Halikopoulou said. In Europe, the far right is in power in Hungary and Italy; It has joined ruling coalitions in Finland and previously in Austria; It has informally supported governments across the continent, such as in Sweden, where the far-right Sweden Democrats do not officially form part of the ruling coalition with the moderate center-right party but support its legislation.

This normalization gives people sympathetic to far-right politics moral and political cover to vote for them. “A lot of people who had certain attitudes and didn't want to be stigmatized are now free,” Halikopoulou said.