Portugal’s president wins second term after Covid-hit election

Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa captured around 61.5% of the vote

Portugal Presidential Election
Portugal Presidential Election

Portugal’s president has been returned to office for a second term in an election held amid a devastating Covid-19 surge that has made the country the worst in the world for cases and deaths.

Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa captured around 61.5% of the vote. He had been widely expected to win.

In a stunning development, newly arrived right-wing populist Andre Ventura was in a close race for second place with Socialist candidate Ana Gomes, with both polling around 12%.

Such a showing for Mr Ventura would have been unthinkable until recently and will send a shudder through Portuguese politics.

Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa
Portuguese President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa (Manuel de Almeida/ via AP)

Four other candidates ran for president.

One of the re-elected president’s first tasks will be to decide next month whether to approve a new law allowing euthanasia.

Parliament has passed the Bill but the head of state could try to block it or send it to the Constitutional Court for vetting.

The turnout was less than 40% — significantly lower than in recent elections and apparently confirming concerns that some people would stay away for fear of becoming infected with Covid-19.

Political leaders say that when the pandemic began to worsen there was no longer enough time to change the Portuguese constitution to allow a postponement.

Portugal has the world’s highest rates of new daily infections and deaths per 100,000 population, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University, and its public health system is under huge strain.

Mr Rebelo de Sousa, 72, has long been viewed as the clear front-runner in the contest. He is an affable law professor and former television personality who as president has consistently had an approval rating of 60% or more.

To win, a candidate must capture more than 50% of the vote.

Portugal Presidential Election
Right-wing populist presidential candidate Andre Ventura casts his ballot at a polling station in Lisbon (Armando Franca/AP)

Mr Rebelo de Sousa, a former leader of the centre-right Social Democratic Party, has worked closely with the centre-left minority Socialist government, supporting its pandemic efforts.

He also has endeared himself to the Portuguese with his easy-going style. Photographs taken by passers-by of him in public places, such as one last year of him standing in line at a supermarket wearing trainers and shorts, routinely go viral.

With the country in lockdown, the election campaign featured none of the usual flag-waving rallies but restrictions on movement were lifted for polling day.

Authorities increased the number of polling stations and allowed for early voting to reduce crowding on election day. In other precautions, voters were asked to bring their own pens and disinfectant to polling stations. Everyone voting wore a mask and kept a safe distance from each other.

Prime Minister Antonio Costa urged people to turn out for the ballot, saying that “unprecedented planning” had gone into ensuring that the vote could take place safely.

Portugal has 10.8 million registered voters, around 1.5 million of them living abroad.

Every Portuguese president since 1976, when universal suffrage was introduced following the departure of a dictatorship, has been returned for a second term. No woman or member of an ethnic minority has ever held the post.

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