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On January 30th, the Portuguese will decide on the Parliament’s new political puzzle and may help clear the path between multiple scenarios. The results coming out of the elections will be decisive for the future of the country, grappling with a frantic National Health System (in portuguese, SNS), a worn out economy and a pandemic. There is, of course, the PRR, or the European economic stimulus to manage, the Recovery and Resilience Plan. 

This will be the third electoral act to take place during the pandemic, just three months after the municipal elections. 

But who can vote? How does the voting take place and how is the Government elected? We prepared a practical guide to answer these and many other questions and help you to navigate the electoral process and the different possibilities for the future facing the country after the election.

Here you can read the pratical guide in portuguese.

What are we voting for in these elections?

In the national elections, we vote for the members of Parliament. 230 mp are elected for the Assembly of the Republic, as we call it in portuguese. They are organized in lists, by territorial constituencies or electoral circles. There is only one ballot and one choice to be made (unlike, for example, the municipal elections, in which several political bodies are elected at the same time).

Citizens vote for the political parties or party coalitions whose ideas and programs they wish to see represented in Parliament, not for individual candidates. Independent candidates can join party lists and be elected, but independent lists, without any party affiliation, cannot.

Who will be the Prime Minister and the Government?

The Prime Minister and Government are not elected directly. They’re appointed after the election, based on the results. That is not to say that it’s not the people who chose them, just that what ultimately accounts for this choice is the number of representatives that each party gets and the balance created between opposing political forces in Parliament .

The Prime Minister is appointed by the President immediately after the elections, taking into account the electoral results and after he conducts hearings with all the parties with parliamentary seats. 

Usually, the biggest party in Parliament is asked to form a Government, but proportional representation in the Parliament and bilateral support by other parties are the true keys in deciding who gets to hold Office.

With an absolute majority (50% plus one), there is no doubt ahead: the party with the most mps is the one who will govern. With a relative majority, they must negotiate with other parties to secure governability.

In 2015 was the only time in the country’s democratic history where a minority party who did not win the elections was appointed. When a left-wing parliamentary majority supported a minority government, held by the second most voted party.

How are the members of Parliament chosen?

230 of them are elected, through several constituencies called electoral circles. Contrary to presidential elections, in which the candidate with the most votes at a national level wins, in the national elections, citizens vote for a party or coalition and their vote counts to elect deputies from that party’s lists in their constituency.

The number of deputies that each district gets to elect is proportional to its number of voters. The more voters a district has, the more deputies it elects to Parliament — and the more diverse are the political forces representing it. Lisbon’s electoral circle, which is the constituency with the largest population, elects the biggest number of deputies: 48 out of the 230. 

There are 22 constituencies, one for each of the 18 districts, two for the islands, the Autonomous Regions of Madeira and Azores, and two for Portuguese voters living abroad, “inside of Europe” and “outside of Europe”.

The conversion of votes into mandates (that is to say, party deputies) is processed using the d’Hondt method, in a system of proportional representation. Deputies are elected for four-year terms and represent citizens across the country, not just those from their constituency.

What powers hold the Government and the Parliament?

The Assembly of the Republic holds the legislative power of the State and the Government, made out of the Prime Minister, his Ministers and Secretaries of State, the executive power.

The Parliament has the power to propose, approve or reject laws and proposals – it has exclusivity on a number of matters. I hold the Government accountable. It is the political body of the State most representative of the citizens.

The Government holds political, legislative and administrative powers, choses the country’s general policy line and directs Public Administration and State affairs. It proposes laws to Parliament and executes the laws and proposals approved. It’s in charge of proposing the state budget, which requires the approval of a parliamentary majority.

Why are elections taking place right now? Weren’t national elections  supposed to happen in october 2023?

Yes, this election was not originally meant to happen. It will be taking place just two years after the last national elections, in 2019, instead of the usual four years. 

When the majority of Parliament voted against the State Budget for 2022, proposed by the ruling Socialist Party’s Government, voted against by all sectors of the political spectrum, from left to right, the deadlock turned into a “political crisis”. The President and party leaders considered it could only be solved with elections.

The rejection of the State Budget dictated the end of the so-called “contraption” (in portuguese, “geringonça”), a governmental agreement that brought the Socialist Party (PS) to lead the Government in 2015, with the support of the Left Block (BE) and the Portuguese Communist Party (PCP). António Costa was appointed Prime Minister. In 2019, the same, but the socialists led the polls. And no written agreement.

On December 5, 2021, the President of the Republic Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa dissolved the Parliament and scheduled the early elections for January 30. It was the eighth time that this power, consecrated to the President by the Constitution of the Republic, to “dissolute” Parliament was activated in the history of Portuguese democracy.

Who can vote?

All Portuguese citizens aged 18 or over, living in national territory or abroad, can vote in the elections. 

So can all Brazilian citizens living in Portugal that possess a citizenship card (cartão de cidadão) or are covered by the Statute of Equality of Political Rights, an agreed legislation between the Portuguese and the Brazilian State that provides equal political rights for brazilian citizens living in Portugal, allowing them to vote in all elections and even run for Parliament or other political bodies.

For national residents, registration on the electoral rolls takes place automatically when they turn 17 and no procedure is required in order to be able to vote.

Voting in Portugal is not mandatory, in fact, abstention rates are usually pretty high.

Can immigrants also vote? What about the Portuguese living abroad?

Unfortunately, unlike municipal elections, in which the right to vote is extended to foreigners living in Portugal in a variety of  scenarios (people from the European Union and the United Kingdom with residence prior to Brexit, from Brazil and from Cape Verde who have legally resided in Portugal for more than two years and people from Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Iceland, Norway, New Zealand, Peru, Uruguay and Venezuela with legal residence for more than three years), in the national elections, the scope is much narrower.

Unless you already got your Portuguese nationality, for the Assembly of the Republic, only Brazilian citizens holding the Statute of Equality of Political Rights can vote. 

For Portuguese residents living abroad, voting will take place by mail, unless they have registered their option of voting in person until the 5th of December of last year. If so they can vote at the Portuguese embassies on the 29th and 30th of January. If they choose the first or registered to vote later on, they receive the adequate ballot by mail, which they must send by January 29, tops. Only the ballots mailed until that day and received in national territory until the 9th of february will be accounted for.

Nuno Saraiva

What about those who tested positive for covid-19 or are in isolation?

There is no clear decision yet. The right to vote is guaranteed to all voters, even if positive for covid-19 or in isolation up until the election day. But there is still no idea how it can be done. The Election Committee said that citizens in isolation decreed by the Health Authority until the second Saturday before the election (january 22), there still is a right to vote.

The procedure is similar to that of previous elections. They can ask for anticipated voting through the electoral administration platform or by contacting the Parish Council where they are registered. Another person can register for them by presenting a signed declaration and a copy of the voter’s citizen card and a municipal employee will come to retrieve their vote on a previously communicated schedule.

But this process still does not cover the people who test positive for covid-19 after the deadline of the 22. And, according to the CNE, there is no way to control the movement of infected citizens during the electoral act.

Solutions like extending the voting time or setting a specific time for infected people to vote, will not be – and could not be – legally implemented. Only the Parliament can decide on that, and there is no time to do so.

The Government and CNE have also been encouraging anticipated voting on the 23rd, as polling stations for early voting have been reinforced.

Can everyone register for anticipated voting? How?

Online registration for anticipated voting is now available for all and will continue to be until January 20. Access to early voting has been extended to all voters who wish to do so, the only requirement is to get registered on the platform. The anticipated electoral act is scheduled for the Sunday before the elections, the 23rd of January.

The Prime Minister and several political parties are encouraging the population to register for anticipated voting, so that they do not run the risk of being constrained on the 30th, in case they test positive for covid-19 close to the election day.

Citizens who register to vote for anticipated voting and on the 23rd and do not do so continue to be able to vote on the 30th, without any backlash. 

How do I know where to vote?

To find out which polling station you are supposed to vote in:

  • Check this website https://www.recenseamento.mai.gov.pt/ or
  • Send SMS to 3838, indicating your citizenship card number and your date of birth. On the election day, the first and last names on the electoral roll will also be on the entrance of the polling station. The message to 3838 should have the following format: “RE (space) citizenship card number (space) date of birth=yyyymmdd”. Ex: “RE 7424071 19820803.”

What documents are needed to vote?

Your portuguese citizenship card. And a mask – mandatory at polling stations. Voters are advised to keep social distance, and bring their own pen.

Which parties will be on the ballot? And what do they stand for?

These ones are on the run in every part of the country: 

  • Partido Socialista (PS),
  • Partido Social Democrata (PSD),
  • Bloco de Esquerda (BE),
  • Coligação Democrática Unitária (CDU): Partido Comunista Português (PCP) and Partido Ecologista Os Verdes (PEV), 
  • Partido Pessoas-Animais-Natureza (PAN),
  • Iniciativa Liberal (IL) e
  • Chega! (Chega!)
  • Livre
  • Movimento Partido da Terra (MPT)
  • RIR
  • Ergue-te
  • Movimento Alternativa Socialista (MAS).

The Lisbon constituency is the one with the most candidates: 21 candidate lists make for the longest ballot. In addition to those already mentioned, Volt, PTP, ADN, PCTP/MRPP, Nós, Cidadãos!, Aliança and JPP. 

The names of the people running for deputies for the different lists in the Lisbon circle can be consulted on the website of the National Elections Commission or here. To check the electoral programs presented by the parties with parliamentary seats, just click on each one listed above.

What are the possible Government scenarios? What can happen after January 30?

Pre-campaign debates have been a lot about the issue of governability. The Socialist Party (PS), which currently holds Government, has been asking for a majority, going so far as appealing directly for an absolute majority (50% plus one or 116 deputies). But the latest polls indicate that this will hardly be the case, even if the party comes off the election reinforced. 

It is likely that new negotiations will have to take place. But how will these negotiations take place and who will be willing to compromise is uncertain. The parties that made the governmental agreement possible in 2015 and again in 2019, the Communist Party (PCP) and the Left Block (BE), do not exclude the possibility of a new convergence to the left. But between the breach of trust in recent years, the PS campaign strategy choosing to appeal for an absolute majority, and the failed negotiations for the State Budget, a three-way understanding, even if unwritten and loosely compromised, seems difficult. The margin for negotiation to the left will depend on the results that these parties obtain in the elections, with PCP and BE being expected to lose deputies.

A right-wing majority is another possible but equally challenging scenario. If the centre-right Social Democrat party (PSD), led by Rui Rio, wins – as it has happened with Carlos Moedas’ surprising victory in Lisbon -, it will have to negotiate with the parties to their right. 

According to the latest polls, the right may come out strengthened by the elections, but the vote is fragmented amongst several parties. Rui Rio’s PSD and the other parties on his right have been open to joining forces, and ruled out the possibility of an agreement that includes Chega!, the far-right extremist party headed by André Ventura. But if with Chega!, who is expected to grow, achieving a right-wing majority is going to be hard to get, without him, it will be even more so.

The PSD proposes to sit at the table with the partners of the Liberal Initiative (IL), which is also projected to grow, and the Social Democratic Centre (CDS-PP), with which the party has run in coalition multiple times in the past. They too have been excluding the possibility of an agreement involving Chega!

Another possibility is an “eco-contraption” (“ecogeringonça”), a “contraption 2.0” mimicking that of 2015, proposed by Livre (“Free party”, of the European green left) in the debate between its candidate Rui Tavares and the current Prime-Minister António Costa. 

This would include a majority PS, with the tacit support of the People-Animals-Nature (PAN) party and the deputy or deputies of Livre, which in 2019 managed to elect a single deputy, Joacine Katar Moreira, who later abandoned the party and stayed as non-attached Member. Polls indicate that Livre is likely to elect a single deputy again, which doesn’t give them much margin for negotiation.

PAN, in turn, does not exclude understandings on the left nor on the right. The party does not assume itself as belonging to either side of the political spectrum and has presented itself to be available to negotiate with both PS and PSD. The “ecogeringonça” is possible, yet unlikely, if PS, PAN and Livre together have enough deputies .

However, an understanding on the right that includes PAN seems wildly unlikely, given the positions of the democratic right parties regarding the climate and the animal cause, which PAN considers to be red lines for an eventual convergence.

If neither a convergence to the left, nor to the right, nor the so-called ecological third way are made possible, the PSD does not exclude a kind of “Central Block”, in which the PSD would support a PS Government to ensure governability or vice versa. But the PS rejects this hypothesis. If PS loses, António Costa says he resigns, and if he wins with a relative majority, it does not exclude to rule the country without any tacit support from other parties, voting the diplomas in the Parliament on a case-by-case basis.

Everything is on the open for January 30 and it will be up to voters to decide what the political puzzle of the Parliament should look like. Political forces shall converge accordingly.

I still have questions. Where can I learn more?

On these websites: CNE, governo de Portugal, portal do eleitor, parlamento.pt .


Luzia Lambuça é vilafranquense de coração e lisboeta por opção. É estudante de Ciências da Comunicação.

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