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Costa’s centre-left Socialists reign victorious in Sunday’s election

Portugal’s governing Socialist Party has won the country’s general election, on Sunday the 6th of October. However, they fell short of securing an absolute majority.

The re-election of António Costa, the current prime minister, is a further sign of a resurgence amongst Europe’s more traditional social democratic parties following victories for the centre-left in national elections in Denmark, Spain, Finland and Sweden.

But Costa’s failure to win an outright majority could have consequences for Portugal’s political stability if he encounters difficulties in putting together a solid working majority.

With only one district still to declare, the PS had polled close to 37 per cent of the vote, compared with 28 per cent for the centre-right Social Democrats, the main opposition party. The anti-capitalist Left Bloc (BE), the third-largest party in parliament, polled at almost 10 per cent.

In a speech celebrating his victory early on Monday, Costa said the results showed that Portuguese voters approved of the left-wing pact that had supported his minority government since 2015. “It would be desirable to renew this political solution to ensure stability for another four years,” he said, but that would depend on the outcome of inter-party negotiations.

Costa came to office in 2015 at the head of a minority government backed by the anti-capitalists (BE) and the Communist party (PCP), and vowed to “turn the page on austerity” following Portugal’s tragic 2011-2014 bailout by the EU and IMF.

Catarina Martins, leader of the BE, said that the Socialists could “choose stability” by negotiating a government programme with her anti-establishment party or negotiate “budget by budget, year by year”.

Jerónimo de Sousa, the PCP leader, said his party would not enter into any formal agreement with Costa. He left open the possibility of supporting it on an issue-by-issue basis.

However, in an important outcome for Costa, the PS won more seats in parliament than all right-wing parties combined. This gives far-left parties the leeway to abstain in parliamentary votes without putting at risk the stability of a minority Socialist government.

Costa campaigned for re-election this year by sticking to his mantra of fiscal discipline, promising budget reserves to shield Portugal from the impact of a potential global downturn.

His shift from celebrating anti-austerity measures to defending mainstream fiscal adherence has certainly tested relations with his left-wing partners, leaving the continuation of their pact open to question.

In recent years, global economic growth has aided Costa in reversing the harsh austerity measures imposed during the troika bailout dark ages, while simultaneously cutting the budget deficit. Fingers crossed that Costa will continue his progress in this regard, he may not be to everyone’s taste, but at least he’s no Sócrates.