Portugal’s Prime Minister Antonio Costa stuns with majority win in snap election

Antonio Costa, Prime Minister of Portugal and leader of the Socialist Party

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Despite all the odds, Portugal’s center-left socialists won a purely parliamentary majority in Sunday’s quick parliamentary election, securing a strong new mandate for Prime Minister Antonio Costa, a champion of balanced public accounts.

The result, reinforced by a higher-than-expected turnout despite the coronavirus pandemic, comes as a surprise after the Socialists lost most of their advantage in recent polls, meaning Portugal will have a stable government to oversee with the use of EU pandemic remedies.

The vote was called in November after Costa’s former communist and left-wing hard-line ally joined the right to break down his minority government budget.

The two far-left parties paid the price and lost more than half of their seats according to exit polls.

After last week’s polls, Costa himself had acknowledged that the Portuguese did not want to give him a full majority, saying he was ready to enter into alliances with like-minded parties, which is no longer necessary.

“An absolute majority does not mean absolute power. It does not mean to rule alone. It is an increased responsibility and it means to rule with and for all Portuguese,” Costa said in his victory speech.

Before the final results came, Costa said the party had won 117 or 118 seats in parliament with 230 seats, up from 108 won in the 2019 election, and his supporters broke out in loud celebrations, singing the old revolutionary anthem “Grandola “and waved. flag.

Costa, which came to power in 2015 in the wake of a debt crisis in 2011-14, has led a period of steady economic growth that helped shrink the budget deficit and even make a small profit out in 2019 before the pandemic hit.

Nevertheless, Portugal remains the poorest country in Western Europe and is dependent on EU pandemic remedies.

Economist Filipe Garcia, head of Informacao de Mercados Financeiro’s consultants in Porto, said investors were likely to appreciate Costa’s new strong mandate, given the government’s record-breaking budget deficit.

“Furthermore, the Socialists do not have to compromise (with other parties), which guarantees stability and a clear line of action. The biggest challenge will be to promote potential growth,” he said.

The Center-Right Social Democrats came a distant second place with less than 30% of the vote, according to preliminary results, against the Socialists’ around 42%.

The far-right Chega proved to be the third-largest parliamentary force, making a big leap from just one seat in the previous legislature to at least 11.

A stable government would bode well for Portugal’s access to a € 16.6 billion ($ 18.7 billion) package of EU pandemic recovery assistance and its success in channeling funds into projects to boost economic growth.

With more than a tenth of Portugal’s 10 million people estimated to be isolated because of Covid-19, the government had allowed infected people to leave isolation and cast their ballots in person, and election officials wore protective suits in the afternoon to receive them.

Turnout was on track to beat 2019’s record low 49% turnout.

As in many European countries, infections have increased, although vaccination has kept the number of deaths and hospitalizations lower than in previous waves.

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