Centre-right party ahead in Portugal election, exit polls show

Three exit polls show the right-leaning parties combined, including far-right Chega, could secure an outright majority.

Portugal's Democratic Alliance (AD) supporters react to the first exit polls in a general election in Lisbon, Portuga [Pedro Nunes/Reuters]

Portugal’s centre-right Democratic Alliance (AD) is poised to win the most votes in the country’s parliamentary election but fall well short of an outright majority, three exit polls showed.

The polls, published after voting closed at 8pm (20:00 GMT) on Sunday by the three main television channels SIC, RTP and TVI, showed the AD alliance in the 27.6-33 percent range, just ahead of the incumbent Socialists.

The polls projected that all right-leaning parties combined, including the far-right Chega, were likely to secure an outright majority.

Chega was likely to win 14 to 21.6 percent, a large jump from its 7.2 percent in the last election in January 2022.

However, the AD has so far ruled out any agreement with Chega, which could make for an unstable government.

The polls put the Socialist Party in the 24.2 percent to 29.5 percent range.

Far-right party Chega’s leader Andre Ventura gestures as he queues at a polling station during the general election in Lisbon, Portugal, March 10, 2024 [Violeta Santos Moura/Reuters]

Far-right could help form a coalition

The issues that have dominated the election campaign have included a crippling housing crisis, low wages, sagging healthcare and corruption.

The Social Democrats and Socialists have alternated in power for decades but have never faced such a strong challenge from a far-right party.

Social Democrat leader Luis Montenegro, who is also at the helm of the AD alliance of right-leaning parties and would likely become prime minister if it wins, ruled out the possibility of teaming up with Chega during campaigning.

But if Montenegro is unable to assemble a majority government, his hand could be forced, leaving Chega as a kingmaker.

Luis Montenegro, the leader of the centre-right Democratic Alliance coalition, casts his ballot at a polling station in Espinho, northern Portugal, Sunday, March 10, 2024 [Luis Vieira/AP]

Far-right party could drop controversial proposals

Chega leader Andre Ventura, a former law professor and television football pundit, has said he is prepared to drop some of his party’s most controversial proposals – including chemical castration for some sex offenders and the introduction of life prison sentences – if that enables his party to be included in a possible governing alliance with other right-of-centre parties.

However, his insistence on national sovereignty instead of closer European Union integration and his plan to grant police the right to strike are other issues that could thwart his ambitions to enter a government coalition.

The Chega party has looked to capitalise on corruption allegations that have dogged the two main parties.

The general elections were triggered by Socialist Prime Minister Antonio Costa’s sudden resignation amid a corruption investigation.

That episode appeared to have hurt the Socialists at the ballot box.

Low wages and a high cost of living – worsened last year by surges in inflation and interest rates – coupled with a housing crisis and failings in public healthcare have further contributed to public disgruntlement.

The discontent has been further stirred up by Chega, which potentially could gain the most from the current public mood.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies