Portugal’s centre-right president was on Sunday re-elected by a comfortable majority to a second five-year term after a campaign fought amid one of the world’s worst outbreaks of coronavirus.
Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, a former leader of the opposition Social Democrats (PSD), had polled almost 61 per of the vote with only two neighbourhoods still to be counted, winning an outright victory without having to face a runoff ballot.
Ana Gomes, a member of the governing Socialist party (PS) running as an independent, won the second-largest share of the vote, with almost 13 per cent, slightly ahead of André Ventura, leader of Chega (Enough), a far-right populist party.
Citing the need for political stability, Mr Rebelo de Sousa, has been supportive of the minority PS government of António Costa, the prime minister, over the past five years. The PS did not field its own candidate, a strategy widely interpreted as signalling indirect support for the president’s re-election.
Mr Ventura, who heads the first rightwing populist group to emerge in Portugal, won almost 12 per cent of the vote, compared with the 1.3 per cent his party polled in a parliamentary election in 2019, when he was the first and only Chega politician to be elected.
Turnout was projected to be less than 40 per cent, a record low in a presidential election. A drop in the percentage of voters had been widely forecast for a ballot held during a national lockdown amid the worsening health crisis.
In the week before the election, Portugal reported the highest daily averages in the world for new coronavirus cases and deaths per 100,000 inhabitants, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.
As voters wearing masks formed socially-distanced queues at polling stations, health officials reported 275 Covid-19 deaths in the previous 24 hours, the highest daily number of fatalities since the beginning of the pandemic.
Some candidates had been willing to postpone the election and almost two-thirds of voters thought it should have been delayed, according to a recent poll.
However, Mr Rebelo de Sousa, with the support of a majority of political parties, said there had not been enough time to effect the change in the constitution that a postponement would have required.
Pressure is also mounting for a constitutional change that would allow postal and other forms of remote voting, which are currently prohibited in presidential elections.
Election volunteers wearing protective equipment collected votes from thousands of people in quarantine. Almost 200,000 people out of more than 10m registered voters took advantage of a special measure allowing people to vote at polling stations a week early.
Large numbers of Portuguese emigrants, who would have had to travel long distances to vote in person at consulates in the countries where they live, were also reported to have stayed at home.
Portugal’s president can dissolve parliament, call general elections and appoint prime ministers — powers that could prove crucial to the survival of the PS government amid growing rifts within the leftwing pact that supports it.