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Socialists win municipal elections in Portugal

The ruling Socialists won municipal elections in Portugal but suffered a surprise defeat by a right-wing coalition in the capital Lisbon, according to official results Monday.

Prime Minister Antonio Costa’s Socialist party had hoped to ride the success of a vaccine campaign that has seen the country clock some of the highest inoculation rates in the world.

Last week, his government said almost all Covid restrictions would be lifted from October 1 after infections dropped in recent months.

Costa’s camp garnered 34.4 percent of Sunday’s vote and won in at least 147 municipalities, out of a total of 308 up for grabs.

His centre-right rivals led by former Porto mayor Rui Rio took 30.8 percent of the vote and 108 municipalities.

The Socialists, who won 2013 and 2017 municipal elections, did not expect to fare as well as they did four years ago when they secured a record high number of votes.

But a right-wing coalition led by former European commissioner Carlos Moedas beat the odds to take the capital Lisbon, usurping mayor Fernando Medina, who conceded defeat overnight Sunday to Monday.

It was the first time in 14 years the Socialists lost power in the capital.

Speaking after the vote, which ran into the early hours of Monday, Costa welcomed a “very clear victory” at the national level.

But he also acknowledged the “frustration” caused by an “unexpected defeat” in Lisbon, where he was mayor between 2007 and 2015.

Moedas took 35.8 percent of the vote in the city, while the Socialists won 31.7 percent — flouting polls that had suggested the incumbent would easily hold on to power.

More than 60 municipalities flipped after Sunday’s election, which was marked by low voter turnout. Absenteeism was at 46.3 percent, up from the last municipal elections.

In addition to the capital, the Socialists were ousted by the right in Coimbra and Funchal. In Porto, the largest city in northern Portugal, the independent Rui Moreira was voted in for a new term, as the polls had anticipated.

The far-right Chega party, whose leader Andre Ventura made a splash in presidential elections last January, won 4.2 percent of Sunday’s vote but did not win any municipal seats.

Costa, who has been in power since 2015, focused his campaign largely on restoring the country’s economy, hard hit by the Covid-19 pandemic, thanks to investment projects financed by the European recovery plan.