Party set for a second term with more seats but just short of 116 seats needed to rule outright
Portuguese prime minister Antnio Costas Socialist party are on course to win a second term after the country held general elections but are unlikely to secure an outright majority, according to exit polls.
Four polls put the Socialist party on between 33% and 40% of the vote more than in the previous election in 2015 and bucking a wider European trend of declining centre-left fortunes.
That would give the Socialists between 100 to 117 seats in the 230-seat parliament, up from 86, compared with 68 to 82 seats for the opposition centre-right Social Democrats (PSD), which has been riddled by internal divisions. A party needs at least 116 seats to have an absolute majority.
The polls put the PSD on between 24% and 31%, with the two far-left parties which propped up the prime ministers previous minority government, the radical Left Bloc and the Communists, at 9-12% and 5-7% respectively.
Negotiations to form a government will start on Monday and could last days or weeks depending on the final result. In 2015, Costa who had finished second behind the PSD took less than two months to seal an unexpected alliance with the Left Bloc and Communists known as the geringona, or improvised solution.
Four years later, however, the hard-left is pushing for increases in public spending and has accused Costa of veering to the right. The prime minister has already ruled out a formal coalition, but may try to renew his governing pact with one or both parties.
He may also have another potential governing partner in the upstart People-Animals-Nature party (PAN), which was on course to capture two to six seats, up from just one when it first entered parliament in the last election. The party has said it is ready to support Costa if he commits to its environmentalist proposals.
Costa, 58, has reversed some of the more unpopular austerity measures, including cuts to public sector wages and pensions, introduced by the previous PSD-led government in the wake of the eurozone debt crisis, while still managing to bring the countrys budget deficit down to nearly zero.
He has won praise both at home and in Brussels for combining fiscal discipline with successful measures to stimulate the economy, which is now growing faster than the EU average, helped by rising exports and a booming tourism industry that saw more tourists visit Portugal last year than it has inhabitants.
The PSD, still associated in the public mind with deep cutbacks and a three-year recession that ended in 2014, was unable to profit enough from a series of recent scandals to hit the Socialists, ranging from a nepotism row to the alleged involvement of a former minister in an army cover-up of the theft of weapons from a military base.
The most probable outcome is a Socialist party minority government with support from radical left parties or, less likely, the small environmentalist party PAN, said Federico Santi, an analyst at political risk consultancy Eurasia Group.