Portuguese American Journal

Opinion | Portuguese diaspora defines national elections – Len Port

The more than 1.5 million Portuguese registered voters living abroad had the final say in the outcome of March 10 Portugal’s parliamentary early election.

The overall tally, concluded this week, showed 28.84% for the center-right Democratic Alliance (PSD/AD) and 28% for the center-left Socialist Party (PS).  The turnout was 59.8%.

With the counting finished, President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa has appointed Luis Montenegro, leader of the Democratic Alliance as prime minister and asked him to form a new government.  The Democratic Alliance consists of the Portuguese Democratic Party (PSD) and two smaller parties.

The surge in voting for the far-right Chega (CH) party means it will play an unprecedented third-place role in the forthcoming National Assembly. Of the 230 seats, a majority would require 116. The DA secured 80, the PS 78, and the CH 50. 

According to data published by the Statista research organization, roughly 65,000 Portuguese registered voters live in the United States and 57,000 in Canada. It is estimated that 1.3 million Portuguese descendants and immigrants live in the United States and 550 thousand in Canada.

These are significant numbers compared with most in Portugal’s worldwide diaspora, but far fewer than in France (396,000), Brazil (259,000), the United Kingdom (170,000), and Switzerland (150,300).

Voting from the Portuguese diaspora added 4 parliamentary seats divided by the PSD/AD (1), PS (1) and CH (2). 

The preferred option among the total of 10.9 million registered voters at home and abroad would have been a right-wing coalition government, but Prime Minister-elect Luis Montenegro has dismissed any notion of close collaboration with Chega.  A left-wing coalition was the second favorite, with an AD-PS coalition trailing well behind.

While a million voters are delighted that Chega quadrupled its seats in the Assembly since the 2022 election, this is causing grave concern among centrist and left-wing voters and parliamentarians.

The concern hinges on allegations – right or wrong – that Chega’s founder, Andre Ventura, is a xenophobic racist. In the past, he has harshly criticized the 50,000 Roma and 65,000 Muslim communities in Portugal.

Evilana Dias, a board member with Portugal’s Association of African Descendants has long worked to quell racism in Portugal and has told Ashifa Kassam, European affairs correspondent for the Guardian newspaper: “We had no idea that there were so many racists in Portugal. It’s like they were hidden.”

Others say that Chega’s remarkable gain is due to decades of socio-economic failure under the centrist governments. An Algarve voter, probably typical of many who voted for Chega, told us: “I am most certainly not a racist. I voted for Chega because Andre Ventura is a very strong, honest leader who is determined to stop corruption and stabilize the many issues that have been so badly mishandled in this country for years. We desperately need positive change and stability with more support for the police, doctors and nurses among others. Only Ventura and Chega can deliver that.”  

Apart from concerns over deteriorating living standards, public opinion polls all showed a lack of enthusiasm for both the new leader of the PS, Pedro Nuno Santos and his center-right counterpart. 

Under Ventura, the far-right has quadrupled the number of its seats since the last election in 2022. Portuguese citizens living abroad will be very familiar with far-right parties as they have a powerful say in European democracies, including France, Germany, Italy, Hungary, and Spain.

Luis Montenegro, 51, who is in the process of forming the new government, promised to bring stability to the country. His political career began in the early 2000s when he joined the PSD. He quickly rose through the ranks, holding various positions within the party. In 2011, he was elected to the Portuguese Parliament. He succeeds Antonio Costa, the leader of the Socialist Party in power since 2015. He will present his new government next Wednesday, due to take office on April 2. 


Len Port, born in Northern Ireland, worked as a news reporter and correspondent, mainly in Hong Kong and South Africa, before moving to Portugal many years ago.


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