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LISBON: Campaigning wraps up in Portugal on Friday ahead of a snap weekend general election, with polls pointing to an edge for the centre-right after eight years of Socialist rule, and huge gains for the far-right.

Final opinion surveys put support for the Democratic Alliance at around 30 percent, slightly ahead of the Socialist party, but analysts warned that the results of Sunday’s polls remained wide open due to the large number of undecided voters.

Far-right party Chega, led by former television football commentator Andre Ventura, is expected to make the biggest gains and may become kingmaker in a new parliament.

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It is tipped to more than double the 7.2 percent support it won in the last election in 2022, which would cement its place in Portugal’s political landscape and add momentum to Europe’s swing to the populist right.

Together with the recently formed business-friendly Liberal Initiative party, the right could secure a clear majority in parliament.

Political scientist Marina Costa Lobo of Lisbon’s Social Sciences Institute told AFP that the election could see Portugal follow a trend seen elsewhere in Europe that is marked by “a decline in social democracy, a reinforcement of the right and, above all, the far right.”

That puts the far right in a position to set “its conditions for the moderate right for the formation of a government.”

The election, Portugal’s second in two years, was called after Socialist leader Antonio Costa, 62, resigned in November following an influence peddling probe that involved a search of his official residence and the arrest of his chief of staff.

Costa himself has not been accused of any crime but he decided not to run again.

“I think that at this stage we all feel a need for change,” said Susana Teixeira, a 51-year-old centre-right voter and communications consultant, after casting her vote in an advance poll station in Lisbon on Sunday.

Risk of impasse

Under Costa, unemployment has dropped, the economy expanded by 2.3 percent last year – one of the fastest rates in the eurozone – and public finances have improved.

But surveys indicate many voters feel Costa’s government squandered the outright majority it won in the last election in 2022 – his first – by failing to improve unreliable public health services and education, or address a housing crisis that has sparked noisy street protests.

“The positive macroeconomic context is not reflected in the quality of life of the Portuguese because of inflation, low wages or problems with state services,” said Costa Lobo.

The Socialists’ new leader, 46-year-old economist and former infrastructure minister Pedro Nuno Santos, has defended the government’s record even as he acknowledges it could have done better in some areas.

If the polls are accurate and the Democratic Alliance comes in first but falls short of an outright majority, it could still struggle to form a government.

The party’s leader, 51-year-old lawyer Luis Montenegro, has steadfastly refused any post-election agreement with anti-establishment party Chega, which has said it would demand to be part of a rightist coalition government in exchange for parliamentary support.

Founded in 2019, Chega calls for tougher measures to fight corruption, stricter controls over immigration and chemical castration for paedophiles. Its campaign billboards feature the slogan: “Portugal needs a clean-up”.

It is the first far-right party to win representation in Portugal’s parliament since a military coup in 1974 toppled a decades-long rightist dictatorship.

Montenegro “has ruled out any post-election agreement with Chega. However, this may prove the only way for the centre-right party to govern,” said Agnese Ortolani, principal economist at the Economist Intelligence Unit.

Chega’s “potential inclusion in or support for a Democratic Alliance-led right-wing coalition would shift policy further to the right.”

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