LISBON — The Socialist Party of Prime Minister António Costa is set for a surprisingly comfortable victory in Sunday’s Portuguese general election, according to exit polls, setting up Costa’s third consecutive term.
The Socialists (PS) were predicted to win 37-42 percent of the vote in a poll broadcast by RTP1 television after ballots closed, ahead of the center-right Social Democratic Party (PSD) on 30-35 percent.
Cheers erupted at PS campaign headquarters after the forecast result, which upset predictions of a close race after a surge in support for the PSD.
With 42 percent, the PS could be close to winning an absolute majority, something that has previously eluded Costa. Over the past six years, his minority governments had conditional support from two far-left parties.
The polls showed the far-right Chega party in third place on 5-8 percent, run close by the pro-business Liberal Initiative on 4-7 percent and the radical Left Bloc on 3-6 percent.
Before the election, Costa said he would be willing to work with any party, except Chega, to form a stable government.
“It seems clear the PS will win,” Foreign Minister Augusto Santos Silva told RTP. “We will open dialogue with all parties, except one, and will take our responsibilities to form a stable government.”
It’s not clear from the exit polls, however, if the left overall will win a majority of seats in the 230-seat Assembleia da República.
Besides the Socialists and the Left Bloc, the Portuguese Communist Party was seen winning 3-5 percent, a small leftist group called Livre getting 1-3 percent, and the animal rights campaigners PAN 1-3 percent.
PSD leader Rui Rio said before the election that he won’t bring the far right into a coalition government. But he did not ruled out heading a minority center-right administration with parliamentary support from Chega if the right has a majority overall.
“This is bittersweet,” Chega leader André Ventura told reporters. “I’m happy with Chega’s growth, but it looks like António Costa will stay on as prime minister.”
The Socialists have governed since 2015 in a minority government, with support from the Left Bloc and the Communists. But the far left turned against Costa in October to vote down the government’s 2022 budget, precipitating Sunday’s early elections.
Voters appear to have punished the far left for that, with both looking to lose votes.
Abstention was estimated at 49-54 percent, roughly similar to the last election in 2019 despite this year’s pandemic restrictions.