Portugal: how to deal with the right-wing populists?

According to the latest polls, the right-wing populist party Chega is gaining ground in Portugal, with up to 13 percent of the population saying they would vote for André Ventura’s party. The national press debates whether the main opposition party, the liberal-conservative PSD, should clearly distance itself from the far right by establishing a "cordon sanitaire".

Público (PT) /

Keep Chega at arm’s length

Political scientist Pedro Norton urges the PSD to distance itself from parties further to the right:

“Ambiguity would produce two effects. First, it would frighten and alienate the centrist, moderate, traditionally wavering electorate which is now tired of the excesses of the socialist majority and which under normal circumstances would back the PSD. The second effect would be a shift to the right, tempting a protest electorate to vote for Chega. ... This can be easily avoided: it would suffice to state clearly that the party would never ally itself with Ventura’s party, that a vote for that party would be a lost vote and a vote for the ungovernability of the right.”

Pedro Norton
Observador (PT) /

Avoid bolstering anti-system discourse

But in Observador, political scientist André Azevedo Alves points to the dangers of the PSD categorically rejecting an alliance with Chega:

“It may be tempting for the PSD to give in and join the anti-Chega ‘cordon sanitaire’. But this option entails at least two big risks. First, it legitimises, confirms and strengthens Chega’s anti-system discourse by allowing André Ventura to claim the position of the only genuine opponent of the ‘system’ and to cite the cordon as proof of this. Secondly, an objective analysis of the electoral arithmetics reveals that the cordon sanitaire significantly limits the scenarios in which the PSD could take over the government and thus increases the chances of the Socialists (PS) staying in power.”

André Azevedo Alves