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Portugal Joins Europe’s Shift to the Right as Populist Chega Party Surges in Election

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The rapid growth of right-wing political forces across Europe hit Portugal on Sunday as the Chega party surged in support and quadrupled its seats in parliament.

In an early election, the center-right AD alliance took the most seats to beat the Socialists, whose vote share collapsed. But the far-right Chega grabbed much of the spotlight with a strong third-place result. It won 12 seats in parliament just two years ago. Now, it has close to 50 seats.

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Chega, which translates as “Enough,” is led by 41-year-old Andre Ventura, a former trainee priest who later became a television football commentator. He said late Sunday that Chega’s election success means it should be part of any AD-led government.

“This is a victory that needs to be heard in many places tonight,” Ventura said as he waved and jumped in front of his supporters who chanted ‘victory, victory, victory.’

“The will of the Portuguese was clear,” he said.

Having secured a huge increase in parliament seats, Chega is a mathematical option for the center-right, as together they would have an outright majority.

But the populist party is controversial, with a tough anti-immigration stance and support for chemical castration for some sex offenders. During the election campaign, AD leader Luis Montenegro ruled out doing a deal with Chega, which he calls racist and xenophobic. He reaffirmed the commitment after the election.

Even if Chega is kept isolated, with Sunday’s performance it cemented its position as the third-biggest party in parliament and a powerful political presence in Portugal.

Chega’s gains symbolize a massive shift. A majority-Socialist government was overturned and the parliament will now be dominated by right-of-center parties. Combined, they will have at least 135 seats out of 230. Four seats, allocated to voters outside Portugal, have yet to be decided.

In the early hours of Monday morning, Socialist leader Pedro Nuno Santos conceded defeat. But the AD, which groups the Social Democratic Party (PSD) with the smaller CDS, is well short of a parliamentary majority. Santos said the AD shouldn’t count on his party for support in parliament.

That means Portugal is heading for a minority government that may be forced to compromise on key policies to get support from other parties. And it may struggle to survive if history is any guide. Since Portugal became a democracy 50 years ago, only two minority governments have lasted a full term.

In its election manifesto, the AD alliance said there’s a need to transform the economy, which is stuck with low wages, high taxes and a housing crisis.

It wants to cut income taxes as well as taxes on home purchases for young people, addressing voter concerns including the lack of affordable housing and the emigration of qualified young people. It also plans to gradually reduce the corporate tax rate to 15% from 21%.

European trend

Chega’s surge, part of a trend seen in countries including the Netherlands, France and Germany, comes just three months before European Union elections, where populist groups are expected to make further gains. Ventura has built relations with other right-wing parties, including Vox in neighboring Spain, which congratulated him in a post on X.

Chega secured 18% of the vote in Portugal on Sunday, up from 7% just two years ago.

It’s appealed to a growing number of disgruntled voters by blaming successive left-wing and center-right governments for what he says is systemic corruption in Portugal. In one video on Chega’s website, Ventura he said he would “clean up Portugal from the Socialists and Social Democrats.” 

Those two parties have dominated Portuguese politics since the Carnation Revolution 50 years ago, when more than four decades of dictatorship ended.


Ventura first appeared on the political scene as a candidate for the PSD in 2017 during regional elections in Loures, on the outskirts of Lisbon.

He drew attention by targeting the Roma community, claiming they were almost exclusively dependent on state subsidies. He lost that election and then left the PSD to form Chega in 2019.

His tone in parliament is often confrontational, which he says is meant to channel the anger that Portuguese people feel about the system. A Eurobarometer survey in 2023 found that 93% of Portuguese citizens consider corruption to be widespread.

“We have the worst government and the worst-ever prime minister,” Ventura said last year, words that echo how another populist, Donald Trump, describes rivals including President Joe Biden.

His focus on corruption hit home when former Prime Minister Antonio Costa resigned late last year amid a scandal in government over allegations of influence peddling. That triggered the early elections.

“There is a huge rot that is spreading throughout the country,” Ventura told supporters at a rally earlier this year. “Only we can do something about it.”

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