Antonio Costa’s Socialist Party won an unexpected outright majority in Portugal’s general election on 30 January 2022. The snap election followed a rejection of his minority government’s 2022 budget in October 2021, coming only just over two years since the last election in October 2019. Continued political stability, reform of the healthcare system and the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the country’s tourism industry dominated the campaign. This Just the Facts looks at Portugal’s political system, the election campaign trail and the results of the 2022 General Election.
The Background of Portugal’s Political System
As adopted under the Portuguese Constitution of 1976, Portugal is regarded as both a semi-presidential republic and parliamentary democracy. The country’s Prime Minister represents the Head of Government, while the President is viewed as the Head of State. The President has the power to appoint the Prime Minister, as well as the ability to dissolve parliament and call for elections lays with the President.
Having held his role since November 2015, the current Prime Minister is Antonio Costa of the centre-left Socialist Party (PS). Since the October 2019 election, PS had formed a minority government. The current President, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, has been in office since March 2016.
Elected through a proportional representation (PR) system of multi-member constituencies, the Portuguese parliament, known as the ‘Assembly of the Republic’, is a single representative body which holds 230 seats. A majority of 115 seats is required to form a working government majority. Candidates are elected from party lists which are put forward in each constituency, with the number of votes cast then converted into seats using the d’Hondt method.
The 2022 Election Campaign
January’s election campaign came in the wake of the Assembly of the Republic’s rejection of the PS 2022 budget on 28 October. Seen largely as a pandemic recovery package, this defeat by 117 votes to 108, led President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa to dissolve parliament and announce a snap general election on 4 November 2021.
The campaign was dominated by a focus on the need for continued political stability. In this regard, Prime Minister Costa had promised to ‘turn the page on the pandemic,’ while also dismissing his former partners on the political left of being ‘irresponsible’ over their rejection of the budget vote.
Another issue at the centre of the campaign focused on the funding and reform of the healthcare system, low pay and the difficulties and challenges posed by such, further compounded by Covid-19, which heavily impacted Portugal’s tourism industry.
According to Politico’s Poll of Polls, polling suggested that the PS held a four-percentage point lead over the main political opposition, the centre-right Social Democratic Party (PSD), with PS leading the polls on 36% to PSD’s 32%. Both the far-right Chega (CH) and left-wing Left Bloc (BE) parties followed, with both receiving 6%.
The 2022 Election Results
In a surprise result to many, Prime Minister Antonio Costa’s PS party won an outright majority of 117 seats in the Assembly. PS managed to increase their vote share by +5.3% from 36.4% in October 2019 election to 41.7%, increasing their numbers in the Assembly from 108 to 117.
Although remaining in position as the main opposition party with 76 seats, PSD lost three seats after only increasing their share of votes by +1.5% to 29.3%. The CH party made gains and increased its vote share by +5.9% and is now the third largest party in the parliament with 12 seats. It is believed that PSD’s poor performance was due to the split in the right-wing vote between it and CH.
They are followed by the pro-business Liberal Initiative who increased their seat share by seven, to win eight seats. The parties on the far left, who had previously supported the minority government, geringonça (contraption) partnership, suffered in the election. The Communist, Unitary Democratic Coalition (PCP-PEV), now hold six seats after losing six, while the Left Bloc secured only five seats after losing 14 seats.
In his post-election victory speech, Prime Minister Antonio Costa was quoted as saying, “An absolute majority does not mean absolute power, it does not mean to govern alone, it is an added responsibility, and it means to govern with and for all Portuguese.” In expressing this, Costa has indicated plans to work in a spirit of dialogue with all the political parties in parliament.
In the days after his election victory, Prime Minister Costa announced that he had tested positive for Covid-19. Therefore, it is not immediately clear when he will be sworn in for a new four-year term in office. Despite the impact of Covid-19, turnout stood at 57.9%, nine percentage points higher than was seen in 2019.
This was primarily assisted by early voting which was rolled out to allow people to cast their vote before election day, while people under quarantine were asked to attend polling stations at the end of the day to minimise contact with others.
According to the Irish Times, Prime Minister Costa’s “strengthened position will make it easier to distribute €16.6 billion in EU recovery funds. There was further good news for Mr Costa on Monday as new data showed that the Portuguese economy grew by 4.9 percent in 2021, surpassing estimates by the European Commission and Portuguese central bank.”