Portugal's prime minister Antonio Costa said his centre-left Socialist party had secured a full parliamentary majority of 117-118 seats in Sunday's snap general election.
“An absolute majority doesn’t mean absolute power. It doesn’t mean to govern alone. It’s an increased responsibility and it means to govern with and for all Portuguese,” Costa said in his victory speech, before the final official vote count was released.
Earlier on Sunday, Portugal’s ruling Socialist party was on course to win the country’s snap general election and even secure a surprise outright majority, according to three exit polls.
The Socialists, led by prime minister Antonio Costa, are projected to win between 37 per cent and 42.5 per cent of the vote, taking between 100 and 118 seats in Portugal’s 230-seat parliament.
The polls, published by the three main television channels – SIC, RTP and TVI – put the centre-right Social Democrats (PSD) in second place on 26.7 per cent to 35 per cent, while the far-right Chega and the libertarian Liberal Initiative party appear to be vying for third place, with each expected to take between 4 per cent and 8.5 per cent of the vote.
Sunday’s election was triggered in December after the long-running deal between Costa’s minority Socialist government and its allies in the Portuguese Communist party and the Left Bloc broke down during negotiations over the 2022 budget.
The unlikely alliance – known as the geringona, or improvised solution – finally collapsed when the Communists and Left Bloc joined rightwing parties in rejecting the budget bill after weeks of tense negotiations.
The election, held two years ahead of schedule, will delay the approval of a spending programme to use €45 billion of EU recovery funds to kickstart the economy amid the lingering Covid pandemic.
Costa, who has served as prime minister since 2015, had accused his erstwhile geringona partners of behaving irresponsibly by voting against his budget and is hoping to be able to govern alone if re-elected.
Despite the seemingly unstable nature of his minority government, Costa has won plaudits for turning around Portugal's post-crisis economy, reversing unpopular austerity measures and overseeing one of the most successful Covid vaccination programmes in Europe.
"Everyone is realising how important this election is, and how important it is that there's a solid victory that will give the country stability and generate the consensus and national unity that is fundamental for us to turn the page on this pandemic," Costa told a rally in Porto on Friday.
Recent polls had suggested that the PSD were creeping ahead of the Socialists and that the race would be a narrow one.
The Socialists have pledged to increase the minimum wage in western Europe’s poorest country from €705 a month to €900, while the PSD has promised to cut taxes on corporate profits and personal income.
As he cast his vote on Sunday, Costa said he was “confident and serene” about the election results.
Rui Rio, who leads the PSD, said he hoped people would get out and vote despite the pandemic: "Given the uncertainty of the results, we would expect more people to vote, but we also have the pandemic that may lead some to be afraid."
Participation, however, appeared to be up on the last general election. At 4pm, turnout stood at 45.7 per cent, compared with 38.7 per cent in 2019.
According to pre-election polls, the Chega party, led by the combative former TV football pundit Andre Ventura, was garnering more and more support and could overtake the Left Bloc to become the third largest force in parliament. Chega's anti-Roma rhetoric, attacks on benefits recipients and lambasting of what it sees as a corrupt elite have begun to strike a chord with many voters.
After winning a seat in the 2019 general election – taking 1.3 per cent of the vote – the party secured 11.9 per cent in last year’s presidential election.
Chega could emulate the example of Spain's far-right Vox party, which has been the third biggest party in congress since November 2019. Not only has Vox proved pivotal in the formation of three regional governments in Spain, it has also dragged the country's conservative People's party further to the right.
On Saturday, Vox's leader, Santiago Abascal, hosted a meeting in Madrid of fellow European far-right politicians including France's Marine Le Pen and Viktor Orban of Hungary.
“We are the ones who defend Europe,” Abascal told the event. “We will not allow the hammer-and-sickle flag to fly, nor the crescent moon flag, nor the dark flag of the globalist elites.”