In full confinement, Portugal is preparing to renew its president

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Lisbon | The Portuguese are called to vote on Sunday for a presidential election more marked by its dramatic health context, which has just forced the country to reconfigure itself, than by the foreseeable renewal of the incumbent candidate, the conservative Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa.

Faced with the explosion of cases of Covid-19, which has propelled Portugal to the world rank of new contagions in relation to its population, no classic meeting is planned for Friday, the last day of the electoral campaign before the traditional ” day of reflection ”.

The state of health emergency in force since early November and the second general confinement imposed just a week ago will not have overcome a timetable set by an electoral law set in stone.

Faced with the impossibility of postponing the ballot, candidates and observers fear a record abstention, which casts uncertainty on the forecasts of the polls, yet unanimous in predicting the victory of the current president, from the first round.

In order to encourage the participation of some 9.8 million registered voters, including 1.5 million abroad, the electoral authorities for the first time organized a day of advance polls last Sunday.

Nearly 200,000 voters answered the call, but the images of the long queues which formed in front of certain polling stations, in particular in Lisbon, did not have the expected reassuring effect.

Second round?

Teams of volunteers even went door-to-door to collect the bulletins of some 13,000 people placed in quarantine or confined in retirement homes.

Adding to the death records which follow one another every day, the closure of schools for two weeks, effective from Friday, was another signal that the time was for strict confinement.

“A year ago this election was shaping up to be a walk in the park” for the outgoing president, a 72-year-old former law professor who rose to fame as a political commentator on television, but “it might not be. so simple, ”according to political scientist Paula Espirito Santo of the University of Lisbon.

“It only takes a 70% abstention to make a second round almost inevitable”, worried this week Mr. Rebelo de Sousa, seeking to raise the stakes while none of his six opponents seems able to achieve a feat.

The four presidents that Portugal has known since the advent of democracy in 1974 were all re-elected in the first round.

Remained very popular since his election five years ago, the current head of state has cohabited without a major hitch with the socialists of Prime Minister Antonio Costa who, to avoid a guaranteed defeat, did not present any candidacy .

Populist surprise?

Faced with this low-suspense scenario, the outgoing president may have trouble motivating his supporters, especially as part of the right accuses him of having been conciliatory towards the executive, who came to power just before him. thanks to the support of the radical left.

The main surprise of the ballot could therefore come from the right-wing populist candidate André Ventura. After having founded the anti-system party “Chega” (“that’s enough”), when he originally came from the same center-right formation as the outgoing president, this 38-year-old lawyer entered Parliament during the legislative elections of 2019, with 1.3% of the vote.

If he obtained nearly 10% of the vote on Sunday, as some surveys predict, “it would be an excellent result for him,” political scientist Antonio Costa Pinto, of the University of Lisbon, told AFP.

The majority of polls, however, place him in third position, neck and neck with former socialist MEP Ana Gomes. Criticism of the Socialist Prime Minister, this career diplomat became an eminent anti-corruption activist before embarking at 66 in this presidential race.

In Portugal, the Head of State has no executive power but plays the role of arbiter in the event of a political crisis, and he can dissolve Parliament to call early legislative elections.

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