The World Today for March 08, 2024


Stinky Politics


In November, investigators searched the official residence of Portugal’s Socialist Prime Minister António Costa, as well as the environment and infrastructure ministries, looking for evidence of corruption, explained the Guardian.

The prime minister then stepped down.

Now, these corruption scandals might tip the vote in snap parliamentary elections on March 10 to give a far-right populist party outsized power in shaping the country’s next government.

The prime minister’s resignation was arguably the biggest political crisis in the West European country in the last 20 years, noted World Politics Review. A darling among European socialist political leaders, Costa was a frontrunner to become president of the European Council, an important policymaking body in the European Union, noted Euractiv.

Costa, who had won a third consecutive term in January 2022, has not been charged with any crimes. But the allegations of corruption, influence peddling and other crimes have hurt his left-of-center Socialist Party.

Now the conservative Social Democratic party will likely slightly surpass the Socialists in the polls. But they aren’t expected to win a large enough share of the vote to form a government because they, too, face corruption allegations. A court in the capital of Lisbon recently ruled that former Socialist prime minister Jose Socrates would need to face corruption charges in court. He allegedly pilfered almost $37 million while in power through fraud, money laundering and graft, reported the Associated Press.

That means the Social Democratic party’s standard bearer Luis Montenegro might need to form a coalition with the xenophobic, populist Chega party – or “Enough” in Portuguese – to become the country’s next prime minister. “Portugal needs cleaning out” is a typical Chega slogan. Chega leader Andre Ventura is already being described as a kingmaker. His party won only 1.3 percent of votes in 2019 but its share increased to 7.3 percent in 2022.

Described in the Financial Times as a “former trainee priest and football pundit,” Ventura has allied himself with European politicians like far-right, anti-Islamic Dutch politician Geert Wilders and Italian Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini, who are skeptical of European Union institutions and staunchly against migration from North Africa, the Middle East and beyond. Ventura has suggested that immigration was “diluting” Europe. He has also appeared with suspected police-affiliated extremist groups.

The new leader of the Socialists, Pedro Nuno Santos, is working hard to prevent the rightward tide, Politico reported. On the campaign trail, he’s running against the Social Democrats and Chega.

“The only way the center-right can govern is with Chega,” Santos said. “And having a government that depends on the far right in any way will pose a threat to democracy in Portugal.”

That said, the far-right politicians believe they can do better, say analysts, especially as they are free, so far, of the stink of corruption scandals.

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