The Socialists are re-elected in Portugal and are considering major investments | Economic news


By BARRY HATTON, Associated Press

LISBON, Portugal (AP) — Portugal’s center-left Socialist Party won a third consecutive general election on Sunday, returning it to power as the country prepares to deploy billions of euros (dollars) in aid from the European Union to the economy after the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a ballot that took place amid a wave of coronavirus cases blamed on the omicron variant, and with around 1 million infected voters allowed to leave their homes to vote, the Socialists elected at least 112 lawmakers in the 230-seat parliament.

With 98.7% of the votes counted, the Socialists won 41%, against 28% for their main rival, the center-right Social Democratic Party, which won at least 68 parliamentary seats. Eighteen seats remained to be allocated.

It was unclear whether the Socialists would reach 116 lawmakers, which would allow them to enact laws on their own, or whether they would fall short of that number and have to strike deals for the support of smaller parties. Late results could arrive on Monday.

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Socialist leader António Costa, who should return to his post as Prime Minister, immediately offered an olive branch to his opponents. He said he would encourage alliances with other parties in parliament to overcome the country‘s economic difficulties inspired by the pandemic.

“The mission is to turn the page on the pandemic and bring the affected sectors back to life,” Costa said in a victory speech.

The stakes are high for the next administration. Portugal, a country of 10.3 million people and the poorest in Western Europe, is about to start rolling out 45 billion euros ($50 billion) in aid as a member of the to help stimulate the economy after the pandemic.

Two-thirds of this sum is intended for public projects, such as major infrastructure, offering the next government a financial windfall. The other third must be allocated to private companies.

A parliamentary majority would ease the way for the next government in allocating these funds in a country whose economy has struggled to gain ground since the turn of the century.

The last two socialist administrations were minority governments. Since coming to power in 2015, the Socialist Party has relied on the support of its small allies in parliament – the Left Bloc and the Portuguese Communist Party – to ensure that the annual state budget has enough vote to be adopted.

But two months ago their differences, particularly over public health spending and workers’ rights, were insurmountable, leaving Prime Minister Costa short of votes in parliament to pass his party’s plan and triggering a snap election. .

Costa may need to repeat his political acumen to forge another cross-party alliance in a fragmented parliament.

Some 10.8 million voters – including 1.5 million living abroad – were eligible to choose lawmakers for the Republican Assembly, Portugal’s parliament, where political parties then decide who forms a government.

Chega! (That’s enough!), a populist and nationalist party founded less than three years ago, won around 7% of the vote. That could give him a dozen lawmakers, up from just one in the last legislature.

The Left Bloc won about 4% of the vote, and about the same for the Portuguese Communist Party. Other small parties could obtain one or more parliamentary seats and offer their support to Costa.

The Portuguese economy needs a boost, which EU funds can provide.

The country has lagged behind the rest of the 27 EU countries since 2000, when its real annual gross domestic product per capita was 16,230 euros ($18,300) compared to an EU average of 22,460 ($25,330). In 2020, Portugal had risen slightly to 17,070 euros ($19,250) while the bloc’s average jumped to 26,380 euros ($29,750).

The Socialists have promised to raise the minimum monthly wage, earned by more than 800,000 people, to 900 euros ($1,020) by 2026. It is currently at 705 euros ($800). The Socialists also want to “start a national conversation” on working four days a week instead of five.

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