Portugal’s ruling Socialists on track to win early elections, exit polls show

Portugal’s ruling Socialists are projected to win Sunday’s snap parliamentary elections by a wide margin, with exit polls giving them a clear lead over the center-right opposition.

State broadcaster RTP estimates that the center-left Socialist Party (PS), led by Prime Minister Antonio Costa, will win 37-42 per cent of the vote, compared to 30-35 per cent for the Social Democrats (PSD), the main opposition party.

The forecast marks a significant reversal for the PS, as opinion polls predict a much more intense race. Initial polls showed that Costa was almost certain to remain in office after six years as prime minister, and were greeted with shouts of “victory!” from PS supporters.

Costa’s party was close to winning an absolute majority in parliament, according to some exit polls, but is more likely to reach it. That would increase the prospect of tough negotiations to revive the left-wing pact, which fell apart in October, sparking elections two years early.

Chega, a far-right populist party, was expected to become the third-largest party with 5-8 per cent, according to an RTP poll, up from 1.4 per cent in previous 2019 elections.

Costa, whose success in repealing austerity measures while maintaining fiscal austerity has encouraged center-left Europe, said he would not jeopardize deficit targets under pressure from left-wing partners.

The Anti-Capitalist Left Bloc (BE) and the Communist Party of the Old Guard (PCP), left-wing partners who toppled the interim government of the minority PS by rejecting its 2022 budget, lost votes, according to exit polls. They were apparently punished by voters for speeding up early elections.

Turnout is projected at 51-55 percent, up from the 2019 election, although Sunday’s vote came amid peak levels of Covid-19 infection. More than 800,000 voters, about eight percent of the electorate, are in isolation.

People in official isolation were allowed to vote in person, with a recommendation to vote the hour before polls closed. “We need to show that nothing and no one can stop us,” Marcelo Rebelo de Souza, Portugal’s president, said in a televised address, urging people to vote.

BE and PCP challenged the election by voting with the center-right opposition to beat the government’s 2022 budget after failing to compromise with the PS on their demands for more social spending and public investment.

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