Over the past four decades, Portuguese voters have imprinted a solid resistance to the emergence of far-right parties in the political setting. However, this time ended in the 2019 legislative elections when the CHEGA, a self-located party on the far-right spectrum, with a posture assumed as anti-system and unconcerned with the accusations of racism and hate exhilaration, elected André Ventura to the national parliament. Moreover, in the 2021 presidential elections, he got 497,746 votes, a scant point to be the second most-voted candidate. The 2022 legislative elections placed CHEGA as the third most-voted party, and the number of members in parliament has climbed to twelve. This article critically examines the political constraints and opportunities for the rise of the CHEGA party in the Portuguese political setting. It argues that CHEGA emerges from the disintegration of centre-moderate right parties and the interruption of the emancipatory function of the leftist parties coupled with a ubiquitous traditional media landscape, which has proved favourable to the CHEGA propensity towards the Portuguese electorate and without scrutinise its narratives opposing the dominant ruling system. Beyond news media and cumulatively, social networks have also increased party exposure by recruiting affiliates and strengthening support bases.
By Carlos Morgado Braz
Throughout history, economic and social distress have stimulated antagonisms and political discontent with ordinary party politics. This thick reading explains why numerous radical far-right (RFR) parties became well-established following the Cold War period. For Wodak and Krzyżanowski (2017), the return of these parties is one of the main threats to democracy. On the other hand, few others suggested it might positively affect contemporary democracy (Fraser, 2017). Nevertheless, whatever different argument these scholars use, they all agree that the RFR party’s success has been appropriating “claims” about the negative impact of social-cultural globalisation (e.g. ethnicity, religion) or the migration influx (e.g. class) involving a Manichean worldview, which divides social space into two opposing camps: the “true people” and the “corrupt establishment” (Urbinati, 2019).
To a great extent, as Goldberg (2020) found, this blurry puzzle has affected electoral behaviour, increasing the number of de-aligned and disillusioned voters who either do not participate or become open to new and more radical alternatives. However, in the existing literature, little attention has been paid to opportunities left open in the political setting by the dislocation of mainstream parties when they smooth over their foundational ideological matrixes to increase their chances of securing a winning majority. Instead, mainstream literature has mainly focused on voter turnout based on socio-economic variables or the dynamics behind RFR parties’ attitudes towards electoral campaigns. This article addresses this gap using the Portuguese CHEGA party’s emergence as a case selection.
One attempt to explain the RFR party’s electoral success could be Rydgren’s demand-side and supply-side conceptual approach. According to Rydgren (2007), the demand-side approach reflects changes affecting citizens’ economic status and social-cultural identity – the base for RFR parties to go with criticism against those in power. In addition, the supply-side approach is twofold: the first focuses on the constraints and opportunities given by the political-institutional context that extend the prospect for their emergence; the second concentrates on parties themselves, e.g. the role of ideology and their organisational structures, including leadership. This article rests on the supply-side Rydgren’s approach. So, naturally, I question: Is Portugal dangerously returning to the fascist path, or is CHEGA a sceptre of the mainstream Portuguese political parties’ disaggregation?
To begin with is essential to remember that whatever ideological positioning a particular party uses, its manifestations will be contextual and dependent, among other things, on the country’s political, social and religious culture. The CHEGA is not an extremist party and is not, using a Wittgensteinian metaphor, an incarnation of our recent past. Instead, I argue it is a populist radical far-right party that emerged from the disintegration of centre-moderate right parties and the interruption of the emancipatory function of the leftist parties. Regarding its rise, the Portuguese traditional and social media platforms have facilitated André Ventura wide-reaching communication and intensified levels of connection with “the people” daily. However, given the spatial constraints of this article, this line of research is an obvious challenge that I will not address.