The rise of the far-right Chega can cause political instability in Portugal

Wikimedia Commons/CC BY 3.0 Author: Agência Lusa
André Ventura, leader of the Chega party, speaks on the night of the 2022 Portuguese legislative elections.

Immigration, climate change, and the high prices of energy and living goods have boosted the rise of far-right parties in several EU member states. Marine Le Pen’s National Rally in France, Matteo Salvini’s League in Italy and the Alternative for Germany (AfD) are expected to increase their votes in June’s European Union election. Hate speech, disinformation, and close contact with the Kremlin mark their everyday campaigns.

Portugal resisted the far-right’s emergence until a few years ago. The Chega (Enough) party, which promises to fight corruption and uses the slogan “Portugal needs a clean-up”, gained a maigre 1.3% in the general elections 2019, conquering one seat in the Portuguese Assembly. The Party rose spectacularly in 2022, receiving 7.3% and winning 12 seats. Now, before a March 10 snap election, polls indicate that Chega exceeds 20% of voting intentions. If so, Chega comes closer to the mainstream centre-left and centre-right parties, whose support has stagnated.

However, recent polls give different results, making any prognosis risky. Two surveys were conducted in Portugal in early February to gauge the public’s political preferences. The first survey by ISCTE-ICS pollsters for SIC TV and newspaper Expresso showed the centre-left Socialist Party (PS) leading with 29% support. However, the PS would have a slim chance of remaining in power as parliament would be controlled by a right-wing majority, with the recently created Aliança Democratica (AD) coalition between the centre-right Social Democrats and the conservative CDS-PP party coming in a close second with 27% support. The second survey by CESOP/Catholic University for RTP broadcaster and newspaper Publico, published on February 6, indicated that the Democratic Alliance was leading with 32% support, followed by the governing centre-left Socialist Party with 28% support. 

In both scenarios, the leading Party falls short of a parliamentary majority, which could result in the need for support from the far-right. Chega’s President André Ventura recently stated that his Party would demand to participate in a right-wing coalition government in exchange for parliamentary support.

The leader of the Democratic Alliance’s main opposition Social Democratic Party (PSD), Luis Montenegro, has rejected any agreement with Chega.

A member of the Identity and Democracy group of European far-right parties, together with Le Pen, Salvini, AfD and the Austrian FPÖ, Chega has hate rhetoric against migrants, the Roma community, LGBTQ+ people, and Muslims. André Ventura called the Roma a safety problem for the country. It is not a surprise that the Party supported the Brazilian far-right President Jair Bolsonaro and Donald Trump.

For many observers outside Portugal, the rise of Chega came as a surprise. “There are a lot of people who didn’t realise that there was such a large, far-right scene in Portugal because historically, since the end of Salazar [in 1974], this hasn’t really been the case,” Heidi Beirich, co-founder of the Global Project Against Extremism (GPAHE), told Euronews in August 2023.

The GPAHE has added Chega to its list of hate and extremist groups in Portugal. The list comprises another 12 groups. 

Socialist Prime Minister Antonio Costa resigned on November 7, triggering a snap election amid an investigation into alleged illegalities in his government’s handling of sizeable green investment projects. He denies any wrongdoing.

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