Voters in Portugal began casting their ballots on Sunday in a parliamentary election amid uncertainty and low turnout due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The early general elections in Portugal will likely see no political party coming to power alone, according to a survey.

The Portuguese are casting for the 17th time in the history of democracy after the Carnation Revolution, which ended the dictatorship on April 25, 1974.

While 21 political parties participated in the elections to elect 230 deputies in parliament, nine parties are expected to grab the majority of seats.

The current seat distribution in the parliament is as follows: Socialist Party 108 (36.34%), Social Democratic Party 79 (27.76%), the Left Bloc 19 (9.52%), Communist Party and Greens Alliance Unitarian Democratic Coalition 12 (6.33%), Social Democratic Center 5 (4.22%), People, Animals and Nature 4 (3.32%), Enough (Chega) 1 (1.29%), Liberal Initiative 1 (1.29%), and Free-Livre 1 (1.09%).

The ruling Socialist Party (PS) and the main opposition right-wing Social Democratic Party (PSD) were neck and neck in all the polls published in the Portuguese press since the beginning of the week.

The PS, which has been in power since November 2015, could not pass the 2022 budget in the parliament as it could not convince the left and communist parties that supported the minority government from outside.

The country is going for early elections as Prime Minister Antonio Costa lost votes in recent weeks.

One week before the elections, polls revealed that PSD took the lead by a narrow margin.

The current prime minister and PS leader Antonio Costa and main opposition leader Rui Rio are two strong candidates. They participated in face-to-face discussions on television 30 times in 25-minute programs on Jan. 2-15.

During the election campaign, political parties focused on taxation, distribution of funds from the EU, minimum wage, investment in the health and education system, and the crisis-hit TAP Air Portugal, the state-owned flag carrier.

It was noteworthy that Rui Rio, the leader of the right-wing PSD, promised to introduce a scoring system by making changes in the immigration law similar to the “Green Card” model in the US.

The People-Animals-Nature Party (PAN) and Enough (Chega) will have a key role in the 230-seat parliament. If the predictions come true, Chega, currently the seventh largest party in the Portuguese parliament, will become the third largest party.

Known for its anti-Islamic and anti-immigrant stance, Chega promised to enact laws based on ethnicity and race. They also promised to establish a Ministry of Family to guarantee the restructuring of the family morally, culturally, and economically.

The voting started at 8 a.m. (0800GMT) and will end at 7 p.m. (1900GMT).

– Low turnout

The voter turnout is expected to be low due to the pandemic. Nearly 1 million people, equivalent to 10% of the country’s population, are in-home quarantine due to COVID-19.

The turnout was 48.57% in the last elections held in 2019, and it fell to 40% in the presidential elections in Jan. 2021. The Portuguese press estimated that this rate is at risk of falling further.

Some 300,000 people, including the prime minister, have already voted at ballot booths set up on Jan. 23 in some big cities such as Lisbon and Porto to increase participation.

A total of 10.8 million voters are registered.

Costa, 60, who has been prime minister for six years, will go down in history as the longest-serving prime minister in the country since the Carnation Revolution.

Rui Rio, 64, who is the former mayor of Porto and has been leading the PSD since 2018, wants to bring his party to power.

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