Lisbon (dpa) – Head of State Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, who is also popular across party lines, succeeded in triumphant re-elections in Portugal – but there is no time to celebrate in the country, which has been particularly hard hit by the Corona crisis .
The popular “Presidente dos afetos”, the “President of affection”, made this unmistakable in his victory speech on Monday evening.
The fight against the pandemic, which currently has the holiday country in a stranglehold like no other in Europe, is “now the most urgent,” the 72-year-old conservative politician told the Portuguese. “This is mine, yours, all of us on a mission!” The health system was “dramatically threatened” due to the dramatically increasing number of infections, he warned.
In Sunday’s presidential election, the former law professor and television journalist was confirmed for another five years with 60.7 percent of the vote. He achieved nearly nine percentage points more than his first victory five years ago.
The head of state has a lot of power in Portugal. The president can rescind veto rights over laws and parliament and call new elections. For Portugal, it was the tenth presidential election since the 1974 carnation revolution.
As the national electoral authority announced after counting more than 99.9 percent of the vote, Prime Minister António Costa’s Socialist Party (PS) candidate Ana Gomes finished well behind in second place at just under 13 percent. She had not enjoyed her party’s support, however, as Costa got along unusually well politically with Rebelo de Sousa.
In the shadow of the pandemic, Sunday’s vote exposed another threat to the country’s political stability. The head of the right-wing populist party Chega! (Enough!) André Ventura achieved an unexpectedly good, almost sensational result with just under 11.9 percent. The party, which was founded just under two years ago, had to settle for 1.3 percent in the parliamentary elections in the autumn of 2019.
The success of the 38-year-old newcomer is ringing alarm bells in Portugal. Ventura, for example, sparked outrage by calling on members of certain minorities such as Sinti and Roma to be separated from the rest of the population in the fight against the virus. Representatives of the other parties and other political experts spoke of great danger. Without mentioning Ventura, Rebelo also promised a “fight against extremism”.
In addition to the rise of the right-wing populists, the dramatic escalation of the Corona crisis is dominating headlines in and about Portugal. The EU country, a popular travel destination for German holidaymakers, has just been declared a corona area by the federal government. The number of new infections per 100,000 inhabitants within seven days was recently around 750. This is one of the highest values in the world and the trend is clearly upward. In comparison, in Germany the so-called seven-day incidence was recently just above 100.
The figures from the renowned Johns Hopkins University, compiled by the portal “Our World in Data”, paint an even gloomy picture: according to them, the development of new infections in Portugal is more worrisome than anywhere in the world. One sad record is currently chasing the next: With 675 dead within 24 hours, health authorities in Lisbon reported a new high on Sunday.
Due to the pandemic, numerous politicians and other celebrities had called for the election to be postponed. In a study commissioned by the weekly “Expresso”, 57 percent of the participants were in favor of a move. Many voters probably stayed at home for fear of the virus: turnout hit a low of nearly 40 percent.
Rebelo de Sousa, who has been in office since 2016, is considered a very close connection to the folk politician who, as head of state, likes to hug, kiss and comfort people in the streets. At times, he also acts as an active helper: in August, the wiry Catholic in the Algarve rushed into the sea to help rescue two women whose kayak had capsized.
But it is not only such actions that give Rebelo de Sousa recognition and prestige. He is also highly regarded for not only criticizing and controlling the left-wing government of Prime Minister António Costa, but also supporting it as a conservative politician. He attaches great importance to the political stability of the country. The collaboration between him and Costa has been almost smooth so far. The Portuguese bet that the duo will succeed in the fight against Corona and the social and economic consequences of the pandemic.