Reinventing the Radical Right? The Portuguese case after the 2019 elections
Facing the new far right in southern europe
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In Oscar Barberà, The Radical Right in Southern Europe, Brussels: Coppieters Foundation, 2021 The scientific literature about the extreme right in Western democracies places Portugal among the countries where this phenomenon possesses a very low intensity (Backes 2011). In the European landscape, characterised by a general growth of the extreme right, Southern Europe has been a region that traditionally lacked relevant extreme right parties. Yet, even these countries have recently seen the emergence and success of new forces belonging to this party family, mainly (but not only) as a consequence of the Great Recession, which has opened windows of opportunity for anti-system parties. In Greece, the old extreme right (Golden Dawn) has obtained remarkable results due to the increase in emigration and unemployment, the sharpening of nationalistic and xenophobic tendencies in public opinion and the disappearance of competition in the radical area in the context of the general collapse of the party system (Ellinas 2013, pp.556-559). In Spain, the Great Recession and Catalonia’s quest for independence were among the main drivers of the success of Vox, a new extreme right party that achieved parliamentary representation in the 2019 April general elections. Contrary to this trend, the Portuguese case has remained immune to the breakthrough of extreme right forces. Their marginal position in the Portuguese party system has been explained as a combination of different historical factors: the late presence of right-wing authoritarian regimes, the recent establishment of democratic systems and the resulting lack of trust of the electorate in what concerns the proposals of the nostalgics (Ignazi 2003, p.1; Norris 2005, pp.65-66). Moreover, these aspects are further exacerbated by the type of transition – a rupture by military coup d’état – which further hindered the reorganisation of the extreme right after the collapse of the authoritarian regime (Linz 1998, p.40). However, things have changed with the 2019 legislative elections, which registered the election, for the first time ever in the Portuguese democratic history, of one MP (André Ventura) from a new extreme right party, Chega (Enough). Among growing fragmentation and polarisation of the party system, this new party achieved visibility thanks to its leadership and its anti-establishment stances. The aim of this chapter is to briefly depict the trajectory of the extreme right in Portugal, in particular during the XXI century, and to provide a preliminary analysis of this new phenomenon, namely in terms of its origin, organisation and programmatic orientations. This chapter is structured as follows. The following section describes the historical evolution of extreme right parties during the democratic regime. The third section analyses the electoral performance of the extreme right in Portugal, whereas the following section examines the emergence of the new radical right party Chega. The conclusions highlight the relevance of the extreme right in the Portuguese party system and the main implications for the political system.