Portugal’s president re-elected in pandemic-hit election

Portugal’s centre-right president was re-elected to a second five-year term on Sunday after a campaign fought amid one of the world’s worst outbreaks of coronavirus.

Exit polls by three national broadcasters gave Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, a former leader of the opposition Social Democrats (PSD), 55-62 per cent of the vote, enough to win an outright victory without having to face a runoff ballot.

Ana Gomes, a member of the governing Socialist party (PS) running as an independent, was projected to win 13-17 per cent, the second-largest share of the vote. André Ventura, leader of Chega (Enough), a rightwing populist party, finished in third position with 9-14 per cent, according to exit polls.

In the week before the election, Portugal reported the highest daily averages in the world for new coronavirus cases and deaths per 100,000 inhabitants, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

As voters wearing masks formed socially-distanced queues at polling stations, health officials reported 275 Covid-19 deaths in the previous 24 hours, the highest daily number of fatalities since the beginning of the pandemic.

Turnout was projected to be less than 48 per cent, which would be a record low for a presidential election. A drop in voters was widely forecast for a ballot held during national lockdown amid the worsening health crisis.

Some candidates had been willing to postpone the election and almost two-thirds of voters thought it should have been delayed, according to a recent poll.

However, Mr Rebelo de Sousa, with the support of a majority of political parties, said there had not been enough time to effect the change in the constitution that a postponement would have required.

Pressure is also mounting for a constitutional change that would allow postal and other forms of remote voting, which are currently prohibited in presidential elections.

Election volunteers wearing protective equipment collected votes from thousands of people in quarantine. Almost 200,000 people out of more than 10m registered voters took advantage of a special measure allowing people to vote at polling stations a week early. 

Large numbers of Portuguese emigrants, who would have had to travel long distances to vote in person at consulates in the countries where they live, were also reported to have stayed at home.

Mr Rebelo de Sousa has been supportive of the minority PS government of António Costa, the prime minister, over the past five years, citing the need for political stability. The PS did not field its own candidate and gave its members freedom to back any of the runners.

Portugal’s president can dissolve parliament, call general elections and appoint prime ministers — powers that could prove crucial to the survival of the PS government amid growing rifts within the leftwing pact that supports it.

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