As Portugal Votes, its Far Right Gains Traction

By Allison Markman

New York City, New York

De Sousa won with higher margins than his first victory in 2016 (Photo Credit: The New York Times)

On January 25, President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa of Portugal was reelected, winning 61 percent of the vote. Though de Sousa was a center right moderate, the election displayed a rise in the far right with ultranationalist André Ventura earning twelve percent of the vote, campaigning on an anti-elitist agenda. De Sousa was expected to win, but the popularity of Ventura shows the changing ideology throughout Portugal.


De Sousa won with higher margins than his first victory in 2016. In his victory speech, de Sousa paid tribute to the lives lost during the pandemic. Portugal has had one of the world's highest rates of COVID-19 cases, which has taken a sizable toll on the country and its politics. Portugal's elections were severely impacted by the pandemic as voter turnout was at an all-time low with less than 40% of eligible voters voting.


Throughout his presidency, de Sousa has been a popular president with an approval rating of over 60%. Collecting more votes than his 2016 victory, de Sousa remained increasingly popular even throughout a deadly pandemic that has cost the lives of thousands of Portuguese people. In his victory speech, de Sousa evoked the triumph of democracy during a global pandemic. “I'm honored by your trust amid these conditions that are so much more difficult,” de Sousa said.


In Portugal, the president holds a more ceremonial role but retains the ability to veto certain laws and the right to declare a state of emergency. During the pandemic, de Sousa has taken a more active political role and has taken advantage of his ability to veto laws. He is known for his ability to achieve cross-party consensus, which has been another reason for his broad support and popularity.


André Ventura, head of the newly formed “Chega” party, also achieved great electoral success. The far right candidate received 12 percent of the vote, a considerable amount, as his ultranationalist party was formed less than two years ago. Chega, which means “enough” in Portuguese, is a political party with similar traits to most far right populist groups, such as anti-establishment ideology and the decrease of the government’s intervention in the economy. Ventura and his party’s popularity stemmed from his staunch stances on longer sentences for sex offenders and reducing salaries for lawmakers. The gain in the Chega Party raises red flags, as Portugal has largely been immune to the rise in the far right globally. Though this election was for a largely symbolic role, it could potentially foreshadow what is to come, as trust is on the decline.


This year's election was the first time a populist candidate gained momentum on the national stage in Portugal, and it demonstrates the increasing distrust in political establishments across the globe. Throughout the world there has been a rise in far right populist candidates, which can be attributed to an increased lack of trust in existing political entities.