Until recently, countries like Portugal felt that they may be immune to populist movements that have gained prominence across Europe. Not anymore.
Populist movements have swept across the world from Latin America’s Brazil to Donald Trump’s US and the UK’s Brexit movement. In France and Italy, the EU’s two founding members, far-right parties have made significant gains, even pulling center-right parties further right.
Despite the far-right’s march across the Western world, some countries like Portugal and Germany thought that they might be exceptions to the phenomenal rise of populist movements.
But approaching elections in Portugal, a Catholic-majority country with a 10 million population, have shown that Lisbon might be the next trouble spot of the far-right, as the country’s populist party, Chega!, has significantly increased its appeal across the southwestern European state.
Prior to the establishment of Chega!, which means Enough, in 2019, the party’s leader, Andre Ventura, had been a sports pundit at the country’s popular football club Benfica’s TV station, but also has an academic background.
Following the 2019 general elections, Ventura was able to enter the Portugal parliament as the only MP of Chega!, receiving 1.4 percent of the vote. But he has risen spectacularly since garnering nearly 12 percent of the vote in the country’s presidential elections last year, coming third.
Different polls indicate that in the upcoming elections on Sunday, his party will possibly get ten times more votes than the 2019 polls, placing his party in a kingmaker position for the formation of the next government.
Will Ventura be the kingmaker of Portugal?
Currently, Portugal has a minority government led by the country’s Socialist Party (PS), which has been backed by the two left-wing parties. But both leftist parties refused to support the Socialist government’s budget, triggering snap elections two years earlier than scheduled.
Angered by early elections, the Portuguese electorate might punish leftists parties. As a result, Ventura’s populist party could get more votes than the two small radical left parties, placing itself third in the elections. If that happens, then, Chega! might be the potential coalition partner of the country’s center-right Social Democratic Party (PSD).
“There will not be a government on the right without Chega,” Ventura said in a recent speech.
“One aspect of Portugal’s far-right at the moment is that we don’t really know how the party will look like once they have several MPs (possibly about ten in the next parliament),” says Nuno Garoupa, a Portuguese academic and a Professor of Law at George Mason University.
“One thing is a party largely built around one specific charismatic person (Ventura), a different thing is a party with 10MPs and possibly the third largest in the Parliament. That’s a big unknown at the moment,” Garoupa tells TRT World.
“It’s going to happen, if not after this election then after the next one,” said Francisco Pereira Coutinho, a constitutional law professor at Lisbon’s Nova University, from which Ventura graduated in law with a grade of 19 out of 20. “It’s going to be impossible to have a majority on the right without the populists,” Coutinho argued.
Garoupa himself is also a candidate for Portugal’s Libertarian party (IL) for overseas voting districts. As a result, he did not want “to opinionate about another competing party”.
Ventura’s contradictory stances
But in the past, Garoupa strongly criticised Ventura’s political conduct in which the Chega! leader stigmatised the country’s small Roma community, also warning other minority groups that they have “rights” as much as “responsibilities”.
Paradoxically, the same guy, who received a good education from different institutions becoming a law professor and jurist, provided a strong criticism in his PhD thesis toward “criminal populism”, expressing his fears of "stigmatisation of minorities" and "expansion of police powers".
Since 2019, as the Chega! leader, Ventura, not only stigmatised minorities but also became a populist leader, allying himself with people like France’s Marine Le Pen, leader of the country’s far-right party, Rassemblement National, and neighbouring Spain’s far-right Vox party leader, Santiago Abascal.
When asked about the clear contradictions regarding his past and current stances, Ventura controversially said that he "always made a distinction between science and opinion", referring to his PhD conduct as "scientific analysis, not ideological postulate".
But Garoupa found Ventura’s “distinction” quite "a ridiculous argument and an incomprehensible position", describing his explanation "like saying that the Earth is round scientifically but politically it is flat.”
"It is as if Darwin wrote 'The Origin of Species' and then defended creationism," the professor said on Ventura’s problematic evolution from a liberal academic to a far-right politician.
Ventura has also written a couple of books, Montenegro and A Última Madrugada do Islão (The Last Dawn of Islam). Both books also have a controversial content related to female submission and homoeroticism.
The publication of his latest book, which is a novel about the death of Palestinian Liberation Organisation’s leader Yasser Arafat, was suspended due to its "incendiary potential" for problematic references to Prophet Mohammed and Palestinian leaders.