After the 30 January elections: Portugal in the cycle of the Socialist Party’s absolute majority

The Portuguese elections of last January 30 gave an absolute majority of parliamentary deputies to the Socialist Party (PS).  The left suffered an important defeat, dragged by the ghost of pre-poll bipolarisation that was shown to be to be false. The traditional right had another defeat, failing to concentrate its votes whist opening the way to both a new and old extreme-right, in the form of Chega and the Liberal Initiative (IL).

Given the polls of recent days that showed the PS and the PSD in a tied vote and with the PSD proclaiming the end of the national minimum wage and other barbarities and attempting to seduce votes from Chega (populist and racist extreme right) and the Liberal Initiative (radical liberal right), the people of the left voted overwhelmingly for the PS. People discovered on Sunday, scarily, that the final difference was 13 points and that they had now become midwives of an absolute majority for the PS, a result that it had only achieved before in 2005 with José Sócrates.  The result was marked by last-minute electoral transfers and by the polarisation of the centre electorate behind Costa.

Despite living through these last days in the pandemic, with 10% of the population in isolation, there was an increase in electoral participation (58% in the national total, with even greater participation in some cases, such as Lisbon with 62%). The PS increased its votes by 350,000 whilst the left went from about 900,000 to drop to just under 500,000. In this fight the useful vote was fatal: the Bloco lost half of its electoral base and went from 19 to 5 deputies; the PCP had its worst result ever in votes and seats (it lost half of its deputies, some of whom were important figures). The environmentalists of the PEV (a satellite party of the communist coalition) and the CDS (traditional conservative right) disappeared from parliament. The PAN( Pessoas-Animais-Natureza/People-Animals-Nature  (animal party and liberal ecology) was reduced to one deputy (it had 4) and Livre/Free (federalist greens) kept one seat.

The new Parliament consists of fewer parties and a diminished left. Thus for the Bloco, the new cycle opening will be as a left opposition to the absolute parliamentary majority, mobilising the social struggles that respond to the fracturing of the country: in health, within the increasingly precarious population, in equality, in climate transition.  Fighting for the leading role of a solid parliamentary opposition is as fundamental as ever, however social confrontation will change form as over these next four years we will have to mobilise a larger and more militant social base.  This will be the way to face the absolute majority.

There will be those who will be quick to see in these results a retroactive bankruptcy of the "Portuguese model" (which, being Portuguese, never wanted to be a model) of autonomous parliamentary support without participation in the government.  For the debate to be rigorous, it should be noted that this parliamentary agreement was made in 2015 and ended in 2019. In the elections of that year, the Bloco kept its 19 deputies. But the next day, the Socialist Party rejected an agreement with the left and put an end to the "geringonça". It is in this context, of two years in opposition, in which the Bloco voted against two State budgets (the PCP only voted against the last one), that this electoral defeat took place.

These elections have occurred after a mandate in which the PS rejected parliamentary agreements for advances in health, in the labour law or in the response to the crisis whilst seeking to subjugate the left. The intransigence which led to the rejection of the State Budget, and the artificial political crisis that it produced, was a successful strategy towards bipolarisation and the "useful vote" against the right.

On the right, the plan changed.  Chega and IL comfortably used this momentum in opposition without their policies being tested: the mix of propaganda and aggressiveness thus has an open field. The change in orientation and leadership of the PSD will be influenced by this new plan which makes a drawing closer to these extreme rights, old and new, more likely. The right moves to the right -- this is Trumps Law.

The cycle of the next four years of an absolute majority for the PS is a danger, especially in two areas: in public services, considering the antagonism between the PS and the public school along with its determination to protect the private health system; and in the economy, considering that the PS shields the business dealings of large companies and uses the tax system to transfer resources to capital, as it will be able to do again, for example, to compensate for any increase in the minimum wage.  Inflation, although still low, is already corroding workers income many of whom are also penalised by increases in housing costs.  For this reason, it will once again be in the social arena where the supremacy or the attrition of this absolute majority will be at stake. Having reached the height of his power, Costa now faces all the difficulties that he has created, ignored, or enlarged.  For us, the left, we will build our strength on the clarity and energy of our mobilisations against the SPs absolute parliamentary majority.

1 February 2022

Francisco Louça is an economist and member of the Bloco de Esquerda and was a member of the Bloco’s parliamentary group until 2012.

Translated and annotated by David Fagan from viento sur

Electoral results

SP : 41.68% – 117 MPs (2 246 637 votes)
PSD : 27.80% – 71 MPs (1 498 605 votes)
Chega : 7.15% – 12 MPs (385 559 votes)
IL : 4.98% – 8 MPs (268 414 votes)
Bloco (BE) : 4.46% – 5 MPs (240 265 votes)
PCP-PEV : 4.39% – 6 MPs (236 635 votes)
PAN : 1.53% – 1 MP (82 250 votes)
Livre (ecologists) : 1.28%-1 MP (68 975 votes)
PSD-CDS-PP : 0.94% – 3 MPs (50 634 votes)
CDS-PP-PPM : 0.53 – 2 MPs (28 520 votes)

Total : 226 MPs; abstention : 42.04%

The Left Bloc/Bloco de Esquerda, was formed  in March 1999 the merger of the pro-Maoist  People's Democratic Union/ União Democrática Popular,  Revolutionary Socialist Party/ Partido Socialista Revolucionário (Portuguese section of the Fourth International) , and  Politics XXI/ Política XXI (a group of former members of the Portuguese Communist Party/PCP.)

The Socialist Party/Partido Socialista is a social-democratic party, member of the Socialist International and  headed by António Costa the current Portuguese Prime Minister. José Sócrates was SP Prime Minister 2005-2011.

Chega/Enough is a far-right racist party form in 2019.

The Liberal Initiative/Iniciativa Liberal a right-wing liberal part fromed in 2017.

CDS – People's Party/CDS – Partido Popular  is  conservativeChristian democratic party.

The Portuguese Communist Party/Partido Comunista Português participates in the Unitary Democratic Coalition/ CDU – Coligação Democrática Unitária an electoral coalition  with the  Ecologist Party "The Greens"/ Partido Ecologista "Os Verdes" or PEV.






Francisco Louçã