Portugal Colonial - Campaigning wraps up for tight Portugal snap election

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Campaigning wraps up for tight Portugal snap election
Campaigning wraps up for tight Portugal snap election

Campaigning wraps up for tight Portugal snap election

Campaigning wraps up Friday for a tightly-fought weekend general election in Portugal, with polls pointing to a hung parliament and huge gains by the far-right.

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Prime Minister Antonio Costa's Socialists, in office since 2015, are running neck-and-neck with the main opposition centre-right PSD party, according to final surveys published on Friday.

The polls suggest neither party will achieve a parliamentary majority at a crucial time when the nation of some 10 million people is trying to boost its tourism-dependent economy which has been badly hit by the coronavirus pandemic.

A stable government is needed if Portugal is to make the most of a 16.6-billion-euro ($18.7 billion) package of EU recovery funds it is due to receive by 2026.

Sunday's snap polls were called in November, a month after two far-left parties that had propped up Costa's minority government sided with right-wing parties to reject his 2022 draft budget.

The Socialists then had a 13-percentage-point lead over the PSD, which has moved more to the centre since former Porto mayor Rui Rio took over the party.

Speaking at a campaign rally in Lisbon late on Thursday, Costa, 60, asked all leftists to vote for the Socialists to "resolve the tie" with the PSD.

He has warned that a PSD government would be held "hostage" by the far-right party Chega whose support it would likely need -- according to him -- to pass legislation.

"There are no free lunches," he has repeatedly said.

- Far-right gains -

Chega currently has one member of parliament but polls suggest it could emerge as the third largest party, mirroring gains for the far right elsewhere in Europe.

PSD's Rio has repeatedly vowed not include Chega, which translates as "Enough", in a coalition government and accused Costa of trying to "instill confusion and fear".

The PSD has made gains since it re-elected Rio as its leader in November, turning the page on a long period of internal splits over strategy.

If the PSD wins the most seats but falls short of a majority, it will try to form a coalition with the smaller CDS and Liberal Initiative parties, said political scientist Antonio Costa Pinto.

"Chega would be a very complicated partner for the PSD because it is very unstable," he added.

If the Socialists garner the most votes but lack a majority, Costa has said he plans to govern alone by negotiating support from other parties for laws on a case-by-case basis.

This government would also be "relatively unstable, with little chance of lasting until 2026," said Costa Pinto.

- Pandemic voting measures -

During the last election in October 2019, the Socialists won 108 seats -- eight shy of outright majority.

Under Costa's watch Portugal has rolled back austerity measures, maintained fiscal discipline and slashed unemployment to pre-pandemic levels.

The country also achieved the highest immunisation rate against Covid-19 in Europe, with over 90 percent of its population fully vaccinated.

Polls show voters consider Costa to be a more competent leader than Rio.

"No government is perfect. But in general I think they did well," said Eduardo Carrilho, who is in his 60s, at his newspaper stand in Lisbon's riverside Baixa neighbourhood.

To try to avoid large gatherings on election day because of the pandemic, voters were given the possibility to coast their ballots in advance on January 23.

And voters who are quarantining because of the virus will be allowed to leave home to cast their ballot, with a recommended one-hour slot from 6:00-7:00 pm.