(GUA) Portugal election: Socialists retain power with increased share of the vote

(GUA) António Costa bucks the trend of declining fortunes for Europe’s left, but remains short of an outright majority

Portuguese prime minister Antonio Costa
 The Portuguese prime minister, António Costa, arrives at a hotel in Lisbon where he followed the results from Sunday’s election. Photograph: Mario Cruz/EPA

Portuguese prime minister António Costa’s Socialist party has won the country’s general election but has fallen short of an outright majority, according to exit polls.

The Socialists (PS) took 36.65% of the vote, followed by the centre-right Social Democrats (PSD) with 27.9%, according to near total results released by the interior ministry early on Monday.

The Socialists’ share of the vote was more than in the previous election in 2015 and followed recent electoral successes for the centre-left in Denmark, Spain, Finland and Sweden, bucking a more general European trend of declining centre-left fortunes.

The results mean that the PS, which has governed for the past four years with the support of two smaller hard-left parties, will have 106 seats in the 230-seat parliament, up from 86 and just 10 seats short of an outright majority. Four seats are yet to be attributed according to the results of votes cast abroad.Advertisement

Negotiations to form a government will start on Monday. In 2015, Costa – who had finished second behind the PSD – took less than two months to seal an unexpected alliance with the Left Bloc and the Portuguese Communist party known as the geringonça, or improvised solution.

Four years later, however, the hard-left is pushing for major increases in public spending and has accused Costa of veering to the right. The prime minister has already ruled out a formal coalition, but said in a victory speech early on Monday that he will now seek to renew his governing pact with one or both parties.

“The Portuguese liked our arrangement,” Costa – whose Socialists, significantly, won more seats than the right-of-centre parties together – told cheering crowds of supporters. “We will see if it’s possible to continue.”

The prime minister added that he may also talk to the new People-Animals-Nature party (PAN) party, which won four parliamentary seats and has said it is ready to support Costa if he commits to its environmentalist platform.

Costa, 58, has reversed some of the more unpopular austerity measures, including cuts to public sector wages and pensions, introduced by the previous PSD-led government in the wake of the eurozone debt crisis, while still managing to bring the country’s budget deficit down to nearly zero.

He has won praise both at home and in Brussels for combining fiscal discipline with successful measures to stimulate the economy, which is now growing faster than the EU average, helped by rising exports and a booming tourism industry that saw more tourists visit Portugal last year than it has inhabitants.

The PSD, still associated in the public mind with deep cutbacks and a three-year recession that ended in 2014, was unable to profit enough from a series of recent scandals to hit the Socialists, ranging from a nepotism row to the alleged involvement of a former minister in an army cover-up of the theft of weapons from a military base.

Turnout was 54.5%, the lowest in a general election since Portugal returned to democracy after a rightwing dictatorship was toppled in 1974.

“The most probable outcome is a Socialist party minority government with support from radical left parties or, less likely, the small environmentalist party PAN,” said Federico Santi, an analyst at political risk consultancy Eurasia Group.