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Portugal’s far-right seduces youths ahead of vote

By AFP - Mar 03,2024 - Last updated at Mar 03,2024

Voters queue during early voting at Lisbon’s university on Sunday, one week ahead of general elections (AFP photo)


BARREIRO, Portugal — Rita Matias, 25, is Portugal’s youngest lawmaker and a star of the far-right party Chega, which is gaining ground among traditionally left-leaning young voters ahead of next weekend’s general election.

“Youth should not be the monopoly of the left,” she told supporters gathered at a Lisbon public library ahead of snap polls on March 10.

“Young people are at the heart of our political action.”

Matias, who was first elected to the assembly in the last general election in 2022 when Chega, which means “Enough”, won 12 seats in Portugal’s 230-seat parliament.

She is running for re-election in the district of Setubal, which includes the Portuguese capital’s southern suburbs.

The party’s youth spokeswoman, she regularly appears alongside Chega leader Andre Ventura, a 41-year-old former tough-talking football commentator.

During a recent appearance in Barreiro, a city that is part of her constituency, voters rushed to greet her with a kiss or take a selfie with her.

Chega has grown rapidly since its creation in 2019, when it won a single seat in parliament — the far-right’s first gain since a revolution in 1974 toppled Portugal’s decades-long dictatorship.

And as in other European nations where the far-right has gained ground, Chega is growing faster among youths than older people.

Polls suggest the populist, anti-establishment party could capture around 17 per cent of the ballot, more than double the 7.2 per cent it captured in 2022.

But its support among those aged 18-34 rises to 26 per cent, making it the most popular party in that age group, ahead of the ruling Socialists with 22 per cent.

Chega, which has made the fight against corruption and illegal immigration a central theme, could emerge as kingmaker if the polls are accurate and the election results in a hung parliament.

Using humorous videos on TikTok, where Chega has an outsize presence, the party has succeeded in picking up on existing grievances among young people. They include the lack of affordable housing and good job prospects.

Ventura himself has appeared in TikTok videos using a skateboard and kicking a football.

After eight years in power, the Socialists have “left young people in a state of great pressure and misery”, Matias told AFP.

“They have to choose every day between staying in the country with limited prospects or going abroad and giving up the comforts of home,” she added.

Nearly a third of all Portuguese under the age of 40 who were born in Portugal currently live abroad, according to a study by the Emigration Observatory.

Chega blames a surge in immigrant arrivals for the lack of affordable housing for young people. She argues the government should do more to encourage young Portuguese who emigrated to return.

Ventura has said the Socialist government has “failed” youths when it comes to housing.

He has promised measures to help young people buy their first home or finance their studies.


Betting on youth 


Veronica Varela, a 20-year-old student watching a televised debate between Ventura and Socialist Party leader Pedro Nuno Santos at a cafe, seemed persuaded.

“I haven’t found any other party that fights so well for young people,” she said.

The election is being held after a Socialist government collapsed in November following a corruption probe.

That investigation involved a police search of Prime Minister Antonio Costa’s official residence and the arrest of his chief of staff, though Costa himself has not been accused of any crime.

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