Portugal’s presidential elections in January saw the far-right Chega party make headway, a result that sent shockwaves through the country’s political establishment. Political expert Marian Mendes has since warned that the “potential for a populist force” has been simmering in Portugal for a “long time,” amid “alarming levels of distrust and satisfaction” with the political establishment in Lisbon.
Thought the new anti-establishment party did not pull off a Donald Trump-like upset, Chega leader Andre Ventura did obtain 12 percent of the vote in the presidential elections.
Ms Mendes told Express.co.uk: “There was the potential to mobilise on populist attitudes in Portugal for quite a long time.
“Not only since the economic crisis, even before that, even before the 2008 crisis when you looked at surveys that for instance measured people’s dissatisfaction with politics.
“With democracy with politicians, their trust in political institutions, these surveys already showed very alarming levels of distrust and dissatisfaction.”
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The political analyst continued: “So the potential for a populist force has been there for a very long time.
“The reason why Chega the radical right party in Portugal emerged right now has to do simply with very circumstantial factors relating to the fact that the person who created Chega Andre Ventura decided to create it at a certain point in time but not before.
“But it could have emerged before actually.”
Ms Mendes’ comments come as spending watchdogs said officials in Lisbon have still been forking out on equipment, drinks and even clothing as if it was business as usual despite the pandemic having rendered large-scale summits and in-person events off-limits with most meetings taking place online.
Portugal has reportedly splashed out hundreds of thousands of euros since its rotating six-month period in charge of the EU Council began in January despite being its Covid-imposed “ghost presidency”.
More than £223,000 has been spent on a state-of-the-art press centre in Lisbon even though briefings are being held online and foreign reporters are not travelling to the Portuguese capital.
A wine company presented Lisbon with a £31,000 drinks bill at a time when very few people are attending events and officials have signed a £34,000 contract to buy 360 shirts and 180 suits despite most presidency officials working from home.
Critics have also raised concerns about corporate sponsorships the Portuguese presidency has signed with various companies, including some that appear to go against signature EU policies.
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Susana Coroado, president of Transparência e Integridade, the Portuguese wing of Transparency International, told Politico.eu: “The presidency seems to be less about work meetings and more about selling Portugal to the outside world.”
Ms Coroado said the contracts and sponsorships reflected a country that lacks proper oversight of public spending and has a bad habit of “trying to use high level, international settings to promote itself”.
She said despite record-high numbers of new coronavirus cases in Lisbon in January, the presidency had insisted on hosting in-person meetings with several members of the Commission in the Portuguese capital just weeks into the new year.
She said: “The government is behaving like the orchestra on the Titanic, determined to put on five-star events even when it’s clear that they shouldn’t be going on. This is very typical in Portugal, where our public contract system is very problematic.”