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The Far-Right Rises in Portugal’s 2024 Parliamentary Elections: “No is No!” 

Marta Vicente (UCP Porto School of Law)

The 2024 parliamentary elections, which took place on 10 March 2024, brought profound but still undetermined consequences for Portugal’s political system. Though obtaining its worst electoral result ever, the centre-right coalition (“Aliança Democrática”) managed to win the election, achieving 79 out of 226 mandates. “Chega”, the far-right party, highjacked the election by getting 48 mandates and more than 1.1 million votes. The results confirmed the trend of fast-track support for the far right in Europe: Chega has quadrupled the number of mandates it had obtained in the 2022 election. In Faro, a southern electoral district, Chega has even outranked the parties of the political centre. The centre-left ruling party (“Partido Socialista”) has not only lost the absolute majority conquered in 2022 (120 out of 230 mandates) but experienced a massive decrease in the number of mandates (77 out of 226). 

Although the elections brought a clear right-wing majority into Portugal’s unicameral Parliament, there is no guarantee of political stability. This is because the candidate of the centre-right coalition and future Prime-minister (Luís Montenegro) spent the last months reassuring the political centre that he would not make parliamentary agreements (much less allow any participation in the government) with the far-right. In what became known as the “No is No!” promise, Montenegro rejected any understandings with “racist, xenophobe and populist parties”. Chega is conceivably an anti-system, anti-elites, nationalist, populist party, which pictures the existing political system as “moldy” and “corrupt”. It wants to introduce chemical castration for the practice of sexual crimes against children and put an end to the so-called “social tourism”.  

Interestingly, left-wing political parties have obtained more mandates than the centre-right winning coalition (“Aliança Democrática”) together with the Liberals (8 mandates). Yet, no feasible majority seems possible without the far-right. Amidst this chaotic process, it is not farfetched that some voters have mistaken “Alternativa Democrática Nacional” (another far-right political party with no parliamentary representation) for “Aliança Democrática” (the winning coalition), although the Portuguese Constitutional Court had guaranteed that the acronyms could not give rise to any confusion (Ruling no. 02/2014). 

It is worth remembering how this political turmoil had been prepared. The 2024 election was called by the President of the Republic following the Prime-minister’s (António Costa) resignation, which, according to article 195, §1, b) of the 1976 Constitution, entails the dismissal of the Government. The resignation occurred after criminal inquiries involving several ministers of the socialist government, including the Prime minister himself, were brought to light. The dismissal of the Government does not impose the dissolution of the Parliament nor require the call for parliamentary elections. Yet, the President of the Republic, who has the power to appoint the Prime minister under the Portuguese semi presidential system of government (article 187 of the Constitution), rejected the governmental alternative put forward by the majority centre-left party. One may wonder why the President opted for the dissolution in a context of a party holding an absolute majority in the Parliament and rising far-right populism. One may question as well whether he acted as the “fireman”, the classic role the President in the Portuguese political system. However, it should be underlined that the President’s decision occurred in a background of growing tension between the President and the Prime minister, a common occurrence in semi presidential systems, particularly when, as was the case here,  both personalities belong to different political parties (what the French call “cohabitation”). 

The President is currently consulting the political parties with parliamentary representation, as required under article 187 of the Constitution. He is expected to appoint as Prime minister the candidate of the winning centre-right coalition. A minority government is therefore the most plausible scenario in light of the electoral results and the stances assumed by the political leaders. The record of the last 3 minority governments is, unfortunately, not auspicious: 2 out of 3 did not finish the legislature. Contrary to pure parliamentary systems (eg. article 99 of the 1978 Spanish Constitution), Government entering into full force is not contingent upon the positive approval of the Government’s programme. It suffices that the latter is not rejected by an absolute majority of the members of Parliament (article 192, §3 and 4 of the 1976 Constitution). This is a feature of “negative parliamentarism”. Both Chega and the socialist party have announced that they will not seek the rejection of the Government’s programme. However, troubles are just about to start, since the new government will arguably need to approve an amendment to the 2024 state budget in order to fulfil part of its electoral promises, not to mention the 2025 state budget. Chega, through its President, André Ventura, has already vowed that no budget will get his party’s approval unless a negotiation takes place. 

To sum up, if the winning coalition lives up to its promises and soundly reaffirms that “No is No!”, it risks being out of power by December 2024. The emergence of a powerful far-right party reduces the likelihood of absolute majorities and, consequently, the stability of the political system. The Portuguese experience will show whether the normalization of far-right parties is indeed an inevitable process. More interestingly, it also represents an opportunity for non-polarized creative solutions by the political centre. 

Marta Vicente is an Assistant Professor in Law in Porto School of Law, Universidade Católica Portuguesa. Her research field is Constitutional Law, with a particular focus on the economic constitution, investment law, and taxation. She tweets from @martanvicente.

The views expressed in this blog post are the position of the author and not necessarily those of the Brexit Institute blog.