Portugal kicked off campaigning for a snap election on January 30 with Socialist incumbent Antonio Costa favoured to win, albeit facing a struggle to obtain a working majority.
Costa’s minority administration called the poll after parliament rejected its 2022 budget bill — the first time that had happened since the EU member returned to democracy in 1974.
Costa has led a left-wing coalition for the past six years.
But allies the Left Bloc and the Communists both rejected the budget, as did conservative groups after the government notably pledged to reduce the public deficit, which last year hit 4.3 percent.
At the same time Lisbon announced a rise in public investment, mixed in with some tax cuts but the Left Bloc and Communists wanted a sharper focus on healthcare after two years of the pandemic, as well as anti-poverty measures.
Costa has pledged made cutting the deficit a mainstay of his budget after the country of 10 million endured tough austerity measures under an international bailout between 2011 and 2014.
The country went into that period with public debt having exceeded 8 percent of GDP.
Costa, 60, says his party hopes to govern alone, negotiating legislation on a policy-by-policy basis with potential support from People-Animals-Nature,a growing force on the country’s political fringes.
His main rival is 64-year-old economist Rui Rio, former mayor of Porto.
“We must rapidly resolve this absurd political crisis,” said Costa ahead of the start of campaigning as he looks to garner the eight extra seats his party needs over the 2019 election result to obtain a majority.
Polls suggest the Socialists will win but likely miss out on a majority.
“The difficulty of forming stable governments will be the dominant character of Portugal’s political future,” political scientist Antonio Costa Pinto of Lisbon University’s Institute of Social Sciences told AFP.
Costa Pinto added the January 30 poll could see a “consolidation” of two new parties — one composing liberals and the other on the extreme right — muscling in after both obtained a seat in 2019.
They are currently projected to receive between 4 and 6 percent.
Polls predict the Socialists will take around 38 percent.
The election will be Portugal’s third since the start of the pandemic with the Socialists having won municipal elections in September despite a shock loss in Lisbon.
In January last year, conservative President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa was re-elected by a landslide to a second term amid high turnout despite Covid-related restrictions.