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Portugal: Why Foreign Residents Should Vote

Updated: Jun 28


(Photo by Rodrigo Antunes)

Now is the time for foreign residents to register at their junta de freguesia (parish) to vote in Portugal’s local elections this autumn.


Voting registration must occur 60 days before election day, which has not been set as yet, but, by law, must be set 80 days in advance and must fall between September 24 and the beginning of October, according to Carla Luis, member of the National Commission for Elections in Portugal.


Who is eligible to vote?


All Portuguese citizens and Brazilian citizens (with equality status); European Union nationals; United Kingdom citizens with residence in Portugal prior to Brexit; citizens of Brazil (without equality status) and Cape Verde with residence for more than two years; and due to reciprocity agreements, citizens of Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Iceland, Norway, New Zealand, Peru, Uruguay and Venezuela with residence for more than three years are eligible to vote, according to the High Commission on Migration (ACM, Alto Comissariado para as Migraçoes).


Voting registration is automatic for Portuguese born in Portugal and abroad.


The municipal elections of 2021 will be the first that feature candidates of a radical right-wing populist party. The party’s name is stylized as CHEGA! (ENOUGH!)


Radio Boa Nova (March 22) in Oliveira do Hospital reported:


“It should be remembered that Andre Ventura’s party already has made public the objective of being able to compete in all 308 municipalities in the next municipal elections. To this end, Chega (Enough) will organize three municipal conventions in March to train leaders, refusing any coalitions in local elections . . .”


Ventura, a former football commentator, placed third in January’s national election, garnering 12 percent of the vote. However, he won a substantial number of votes in some municipalities, such as Coimbra District's Tabua and Oliveira do Hospital, in a country with historically low voter turnout.


Folha do Centro (April 4) reported: “It should be noted that, in the January presidential race, Chega was close to reaching 1,000 votes in the total of the results obtained in the municipality of Oliveira do Hospital.”


Chega embodies characteristics of 21st-century far-right groups: nativism, authoritarianism, and populism, according to Foreign Policy (January 26). Ventura sowed the seeds of his political career by targeting the Roma and demonizing the poor, touting the necessity for law and order, and adopting an anti-establishment stance.


However, in Portugal, “anti-establishment sentiment plays a larger role” within the emerging far-right than in many other European countries, where nativist anti-immigrant rhetoric is stronger, said Mariana Mendes, a researcher at Dresden University of Technology. The Portuguese have a higher level of distrust in their democracy than most populations. This discontentment could fuel a unique brand of far-right populism in Portugal that does not rely primarily on anti-immigrant sentiment.


Chega's rhetoric is colorful and passionate, but it is light on practicalities. It says it plans to streamline government and bring justice, but it does not say how.


It also says it has come “to change outdated, aimless systems; change corrupt, rotten and venal structures”, according to its founding political manifesto, which also addresses, among other issues, taxes:


“CHEGA does not accept the tax extortion machine that the Portuguese state is now limited to being. A citizen assault machine, a one-dimensional citizen because he or she is only seen as a ‘taxpayer’. In the state we’ve come to, tax collection is theft. Plain and simple theft. Therefore, CHEGA places the reform and dismantling of the police structure underlying the tax authorities as an absolute priority of the party. It will be a reform that will leave no stone unturned in the tax system that burdens, in an absolutely disproportionate way, all those who work and generate wealth.”


Foreign Policy wrote: “Ventura first appeared on Portugal’s political scene in 2017 as a candidate for the center-right Social Democratic Party (PSD) during regional elections in Loures, on the outskirts of the capital, Lisbon. Although he lost that election, Ventura made a name for himself as an outspoken politician with a penchant for fanning the flames of politically charged debates, such as those surrounding Roma encampments and immigration policy.


“By 2019, Ventura had enough political clout—and disagreements with the PSD—to form his own party . . . That year, Ventura secured a single seat in the parliament.


“It was the first time a candidate from a far-right party had gained power on the national stage, marking an end to the period of Portuguese exceptionalism to the populist sentiment gaining traction across Europe.


“The victory granted enough legitimacy to Chega and enough intrigue to Ventura to capture regular media coverage. Like former U.S. President Donald Trump, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, and other skilled political showmen, Ventura used the media attention to hone his divisive rhetoric and widen his audience—and to make waves in the presidential campaign.”


Ventura traveled to France to meet with the extreme right-wing politician, Marine Le Pen, and, later, welcomed her to join him on the campaign trail.


Carlos Jalali is a political analyst at the University of Aveiro. He says that everyone knows there is “latent dissatisfaction and that Chega! is starting to reflect that,” according to euronews (January 21).


According to Mendes, who has studied the rise of the radical right across Europe, the socioeconomic factors that have given rise to populism elsewhere have been present in Portugal for years, reported Foreign Policy. The emergence of a party like Chega and someone like Ventura was only a matter of time.

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