For years, countries that underwent phases of military or authoritarian rule in post-war years, like the southern western European countries have been perceived as the exception in the radical-right phenomenon, avoiding the stigma of extremism. As in the case of Germany and the parliamentary breakthrough of Alternative für Deustchland (AfD) party in 2017, in 2019, both Spain and Portugal saw representatives from the radical-right Vox and Chega! Parties breakthrough. In both contexts, it might have taken a while for radical right to appear, but and similar to the case of Germany, it appears that the memory of the past wasn’t enough to prohibit radical-right ideology entering the mainstream. By leaving behind elements of extremism (e.g. violence and explicit neo-fascism) and by taking advantage of the new political opportunities in post-materialist societies (e.g. anti-establishment sentiments, weakening of old traditional cleavages, diluted form of solidarity and topics as migration, EU integration and identity politics), these newly-formed representatives of the radical-right family managed to become credible political alternatives to the ‘failed’ mainstream in the eyes of the electorate.
More of the Same? Chega’s Political Platform & International Affiliations
The newest successful member of the family, is the Portuguese party Chega!, who managed in the latest presidential elections of January 2021 to receive around 12% of the national popular vote. The party, along with its leader André Ventura have managed to gain public attention by addressing among other issues: dissatisfaction with the status quo, suppression of the functions of the state, nativism, and ‘othering’ rhetoric (with a special focus on the Roma community) along with rising calls for law and order.
From a first glance, Chega! shares lots of similarities with the rest of the radical-right family. Led by a charismatic leader, with a strong nativist, populist, xenophobic and authoritarian discourse, the party has joined the radical-right European Parliamentary grouping Identity and Democracy and shares close connections with the rest of its members (including the likes of Marine Le Pen, Geert Wilders and Mateo Salvini). Its political manifesto focuses on economic liberal policies (e.g. reducing taxes, increasing competitiveness, minimising bureaucratisation) the rule of law (promoting redefinition of criminal penalties) and the limitation of state intervention ‘reduced to its essential functions’. The party targets corrupt political elites (connected to the narrative of promoting policies that reduce state intervention), challenges the effectiveness of government policies (e.g. recent handling of the coronavirus), but also opposes to the existing political system, calling for a new ‘IV Republic’ as a presidential political system, with a new constitution and singular presidential power. The party also is associated with a nostalgia for imperial greatness, considers the nation as a ‘community of blad, land, goods and destiny’, fights to preserve the traditional conception of gender ideology (opposing abortion and sex reassignment surgeries) and creates a mixture of authoritarianism, exclusion and Christian values in its effort to transform Portugal.
Points of Discontinuity: Colonial Nostalgia and Portugal’s Radical Right
Beyond the anti-establishment stance though, what makes though Chega! distinguishing from the rest of radical-right family is the party’s nostalgic discourse toward Portuguese colonialism, and references to the Estado Novo regime in the country’s history. This form of shared cultural memory and the nostalgia of the imperial greatness of the colonial past is what makes the party distinguishing itself in the country’s political scene. Additionally, the party maintains its focus against liberal politics, or as put by Ventura, the ‘Portuguese of evil’ that the party ‘won’t represent’.
Along with the nostalgic colonial descriptions Chega!, as mentioned above, emphasises, but not limits, its discourse of otherness towards the Roma community. More specifically the party strategically demonises the Roma community as a structural problem that has uncontrollably grown, living at the expense of the rest of the population and exploting the welfare system as welfare recipients, building on feelings of victimhood ‘minorisation’ of the ‘ordinary’ and ‘good’ Portuguese. Within a similar line, the party often refers to the Catholic values of the country, in line with an anti-Islamic narrative, a debate that has not gained a lot of attention in Portugal since the decolonisation process.
In Portugal, what Chega! has achieved is to embrace an anti-systemic divisional distinction within the society, something that has contributed to the party’s electoral success. The political trivialisation of Chega! by the Portugese Social Democratic Party (PSD) – and the lack of a ‘cordon sanitaire’ that is often adopted in other European countries – has offered the party an additional legitimacy within the country’s political scene. As highlighted instantly by the first appearance of Chega!, and similar to other cases that were perceived as exceptions, there is no rule that will exclude the opportunity for radical-right parties as become agents of change within a countries’ political scene.
Dr Vasiliki Tsagkroni is a Senior Fellow at CARR and Lecturer of Comparative Politics at the Institute of Political Science, Leiden University. See full profile here.
© Vasiliki Tsagkroni. Views expressed on this website are individual contributors and do not necessarily reflect that of the Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right (CARR). We are pleased to share previously unpublished materials with the community under creative commons license 4.0 (Attribution-NoDerivatives).