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Municipal Elections in Portugal

Municipal Elections in Portugal

The first Sunday of October was a day of municipal elections in Portugal (“autárquicas”, with a common Greek root with the English “autarchy”). Unlike what could be expected, the abstention numbers (45%) were in line with previous elections. A large number of people feel disconnected and don’t vote as an act of silent protest. This trend is expected to grow over the next few years, although it’s unclear if it’s going to have any serious effect in the way politics is effectively made.

Some bizarre outlooks

There’s a hidden fact contributing to 45% of abstention; an administrative glitch is making that deceased people are still being considered as voters. Apparently, no political party has interest in working to correct this situation. It’s unlikely to have 9,4 real million voters when the population is 10,3 million.

In Oeiras, a municipality of the Greater Lisbon, the new mayor is a convicted criminal. A former longtime mayor, he did not run in the previous election of 2013, while struggling with Justice. He was in jail for tax fraud and money laundering between 2013 and 2014. However, he was now elected once again, with a staggering 41,65%, more than the next three rivals combined.

For a lot of people, it seems bizarre that a known corrupt politician could get this kind of results. One could assume that people connect the new mayor (who ruled Oeiras between 1985 and 2013, with a short break) with a time of development in the area and accomplished works (“obra feita”). Somehow, this is a vote to a return to a known past, which it seems more important than the criminal record of the mayor.

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A contribution to political stability?

These municipal elections were very much another confirmation of Portugal as, currently, a very stable country. The last national elections, in 2015, caused a commotion when the centre-left party, the Socialists, created a coalition with left-wing parties (the Left Bloc and the Communists) to ensure the formation of a government. The Socialists elected less MP than the ruling centre-right coalition, but this way they were allowed to step up.

Is was the first time after the Carnation Revolution that a government was formed by a party not having won the elections (not having the highest number of MP). However, in spite of the centre-right outcry, the new left-wing coalition somehow continued the political effort of complying with European and international austerity measures, after the 2011 bailout.

The Socialists were the clear winners of the municipal elections, at the expense of the centre-right and taking several municipalities to the Communists. For the moment, their initiative has been rewarded.