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Portugal’s Socialists Concede Election Amid Far-Right Surge

Portugal’s Socialist Party conceded defeat on Sunday night in a very tight national election that ended the party’s eight years in power and reflected the country’s drift to the right, which follows a broader trend in Europe.

That shift was marked by the ascent of Chega, an anti-establishment, right-wing party, which skyrocketed from recent irrelevance to become the third most popular party in Portugal.

The Socialist Party, which has been hobbled by a corruption investigation, had been running neck and neck with the Democratic Alliance, a center-right coalition, until late in the evening, when the Socialist leader conceded at a news conference.

The Socialists and the Democratic Alliance had each garnered about 29 percent of the vote, with about 99 percent of the voting districts having counted their ballots. Ballots cast abroad, which elect four parliamentary seats, had yet to be counted, but the Socialist Party leader, Pedro Nuno Santos, said that those ballots were unlikely to make up for the votes they needed to win.

“Everything indicates that the Socialist Party did not win the election,” Mr. Nuno Santos said at the news conference.

His concession paved the way for Luís Montenegro, the leader of the Social Democratic Party, the major party within the Democratic Alliance, to form a government. “It seems undeniable that the Democratic Alliance won the elections and that the Socialists lost,” Mr. Montenegro said at a news conference.

Mr. Montenegro has said that he would not form a coalition with Chega, which opponents accuse of being racist and xenophobic. Experts said that made it likely that he would form a minority government.

The election was one of the last national votes ahead of critical European Parliament elections in June, which are seen as a barometer of political winds across the continent. Chega’s jump to over 18 percent of the vote this year, from about 7 percent in 2022, may provide momentum to conservatives and rightist parties hoping to make significant gains in the E.U. elections.

“It’s an absolutely historic result,” the Chega party leader, André Ventura, told reporters on Sunday night. Mr. Ventura, a former television sports commentator, rose to prominence by lobbing attacks against Portugal’s Roma minority. Brazil’s far-right ex-president Jair Bolsonaro endorsed his candidacy.

“The Portuguese defend their identity and their prosperity,” Jordan Bardella, the president of the French far-right National Rally party, wrote on X on Sunday, congratulating Chega and giving them an “appointment” at the European Parliament.

Similar messages came from lawmakers from the far-right parties Alternative for Germany, Vox in Spain, Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s Fidesz party in Hungary and the Austrian Freedom Party.

Chega’s rise represents a new phenomenon in Portugal, where no far-right parties had gained significant ground since the end of military dictatorship in the 1970s, though similar parties advanced in recent years in other European countries.

“Portugal is therefore no longer an exception in the European political party panorama,” said Marina Costa Lobo, a political scientist at the University of Lisbon, describing a landscape marked by “the rise of the radical populist right” and the centrality of issues such as immigration.

Like other anti-establishment parties in Europe, experts said, Chega seized on people’s financial concerns and on a general sense of insecurity. Portugal’s persistently low wages have failed to keep up with inflation; housing prices have doubled in the past eight years; and people have protested a lack of access to the health care system.

Mr. Ventura has promised tax cuts, higher pension payments and tighter rules on immigration. Under the banner “Portugal needs a cleanup,” he also campaigned against corruption after the former government, headed by the Socialists, collapsed amid an investigation involving lithium exploration concessions.

The prime minister at the time, António Costa, has not been formally charged with any crime, but he resigned in November, saying the investigation was incompatible with his official role. Mr. Montenegro is most likely to be named prime minister by Portugal’s president, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, based on the preliminary election results. Mr. Montenegro, 51, a lawyer, has also promised tax cuts.

Experts say the election result partly stemmed from Portuguese voters’ desire for something new. “They feel it’s time for a change,” said José Santana Pereira, an associate professor of political science at the University Institute of Lisbon.

On Sunday night, Mr. Ventura said that he was available to build a government with the Democratic Alliance to give Portugal a “stable government,” though Mr. Montenegro had ruled out that possibility during the campaign.

If the Democratic Alliance were to form a minority government, experts said it might be short-lived and struggle to pass legislation.

Ms. Costa Lobo said any government formed by the Democratic Alliance would have to make piecemeal deals with the parties on its left and on its right to pass legislation.

“It is now up to politicians to seek the stability that the election did not guarantee,” Ms. Costa Lobo said.



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