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Corruption scandals cast a shadow over Portugal’s early elections

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Corruption scandals cast a shadow over Portugal’s early elections

LISBON, Portugal (AP) — Two weeks of official campaigning before Portugal’s general election began Sunday, with the two traditional moderate parties expected to again win a majority of votes despite expectations that a populist party It would gain support and give more impetus to Europe’s turn to the right.

The center-left Socialist Party and the center-right Social Democratic Party have alternated in power for decades. But they are not sure how much support they will need from smaller parties to form a government after the March 10 vote.

Corruption scandals have cast a shadow over the elections. They have also stoked public discontent with the country’s political class as Portugal prepares to celebrate 50 years of democracy since the Carnation Revolution that overthrew a conservative dictatorship on April 25, 1974.

The elections come after the socialist government collapsed last November following a corruption investigation. That case included a police search of the official residence of Prime Minister António Costa and the arrest of his chief of staff. Costa has not been charged with any crime.

Also in recent weeks, a Lisbon court decided that a former socialist prime minister must go on trial for corruption. Prosecutors allege that José Sócrates, prime minister between 2005 and 2011, pocketed some 34 million euros ($36.7 million) during his time in power through bribery, fraud and money laundering.

The Social Democratic Party has also been implicated in corruption cases.

During the final weeks of the unofficial campaign, an investigation in the island region of Madeira led to the resignation of two prominent members of the Social Democrats. The scandal broke on the same day that the Social Democratic Party unveiled an anti-corruption billboard in Lisbon that read “It can’t go on like this.”

The housing crisis, wages that remain low and problems in public services are other areas where the record of the two main parties fails.

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Controversial issues that have fueled political debate and boosted populist parties in Europe, such as climate change, immigration and religious differences, have barely appeared in the campaign in Portugal.

A populist and nationalist party formed five years ago called Chega! (“Enough!”) has made the fight against corruption one of its flagship issues. “Portugal needs a clean-up,” declared one of its billboards.

The party’s leader, 41-year-old lawyer André Ventura, has remained third in polls and could become a decisive partner if his political influence grows. His party managed just 1.3% of the vote in the 2019 election, but it rose to 7.3% in 2022. He could get more than double that this time, according to polls, if the protest vote grows.

A key question is whether the Social Democrats will end up needing Chega!’s votes. to form a parliamentary majority after eight years in opposition.

The Socialist Party could form alliances with the Portuguese Communist Party or the Left Bloc to assume power, as it has done in the past.

Socialist leader Pedro Nuno Santos, the party’s candidate for prime minister, is a legislator and former minister of housing and infrastructure. Santos, 46, left the current government questioned over its management of rescued airline TAP Air Portugal and a dispute over the location of a new Lisbon airport.

Luís Montenegro, a 51-year-old social democratic leader who aspires to become prime minister, has been a parliamentarian for more than 20 years. He leads the Democratic Alliance, a grouping of two smaller center-right parties formed for the elections.

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