On January 30, Portugal’s Socialist Party won 41.7% of the vote and 117 seats in the Portuguese Assembly of the Republic. The victory of the social-democratic Socialist Party is unique in that it is only the second time in Portugal’s history that a single party is able to govern alone without a coalition. The centrist-right Social Democratic Party (PSD) came in second, winning 29.3% of the vote. The snap election was held after the Socialist minority government’s budget proposal was rejected by the Left Bloc, the Portuguese Communist Party, and the right-wing opposition parties in October 2021. This was a shock as the Left Bloc and the Communist Party had usually supported the Socialist minority government.
The Left Bloc and the Communist Party are the biggest leftist parties currently represented in the Assembly of the Republic – the Left Bloc holds 5 seats while the Communist Party holds 6 seats in coalition with the Ecologist Party “The Greens”, the first Portuguese green party. The Left Bloc is a left-wing populist party that supports civil rights, same-sex marriage, and greater state intervention in the economy to reduce inequalities. The Communist Party is a Marxist-Leninist party that defines itself as the party of all Portuguese workers and aims to overthrow capitalism. These two parties rejected the budget, accusing the government of being non-negotiable with their demands for more protection for workers, improvements in the social security system, and increased public investment in the health service.
Costa’s Rule Since 2015
Since 2015, António Costa, prime minister of Portugal and Secretary-General of the Socialist Party, had led a popular presidency – largely due to his successful management of the pandemic. His government launched an extensive vaccination effort during the pandemic which left more than 90% of Portugal’s population vaccinated, among the highest rates in the world. However, Costa’s government faced critiques regarding the state of the economy. The overwhelming support for the Socialist Party in the snap election despite such reservations indicates that the public believes Prime Minister Costa exemplifies competent leadership and is impressed by his delivery of traditional, straightforward social democratic ideas like better housing and improving low wages.
Implications for European Politics
These Portuguese elections speak to a greater trend, the decline over center-left parties in Europe. The French Socialist Party was heavily defeated in the 2017 elections, and the Dutch Labor Party won less than 6% of the vote in 2017 and continued to perform poorly in elections the following years. The Czech Social Democrats are no longer in government since October. Many analysts point to the 2008 financial crash to explain the decline. Anger over high unemployment and poor living conditions have pushed a part of the center-left voter pool to far-left parties supporting anti-capitalism, anti-globalization, and anti-establishment. Amid this swing of the political pendulum in Europe, experts agree that Costa exemplifies a clear and steady leadership that will deliver wages and pensions to the people of Portugal.
Romy Koo is a sophomore majoring in International Studies and Political Science at Johns Hopkins University. Romy is a blog writer for the Hopkins Podcast on Foreign Affairs. She is originally from Suwon, South Korea.