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Unapologetically Conservative: How Portugal’s CHEGA! Party Rose to Power

CHEGA was founded in April 2019 as the new alternative to the traditional right in Portugal. After a slow beginning in the 2019 European elections, the party became the third-largest parliamentary force in Portugal in the 2022 elections with 7.15% of the vote and 12 MPs. The president of the party, André Ventura, kindly spoke with us about the identity of the party and its newfound success. The interview has been edited for clarity.

There has been some talk for some time of the “Iberian exception” due to the absence of patriotic parties in the Spanish and Portuguese parliaments, but VOX and CHEGA have broken this exception despite pressure from the media and the political class. What was the key that brought CHEGA into parliament?

The traditional parties of the Portuguese political spectrum stopped responding to the real problems of the Portuguese a long time ago. Instead, they prefer to concentrate on defending lobbies and agendas that end up hijacking the interests and will of ordinary Portuguese.

Faced with the system’s lack of response, CHEGA! appeared. A right-wing party, we are conservative in our ways, reformist, fiscally conservative in the economy, and we defend the homeland above all else. We are party that is not afraid to confront vested interests, that fights against subsidized dependency, that proposes faster and more effective justice, with harsher sentences and even life imprisonment for heinous crimes. We are not afraid to take the side of the Security Forces, the military, magistrates, doctors, and teachers; we defend the rural world and farmers; we defend a school without ideology. We are a party that respects the family as the basic institution of society and that defends the inviolability of human life in all its stages and dimensions.

It is therefore not surprising that CHEGA! is trusted by almost 400,000 Portuguese. We are currently the third national political force and we are rising in the polls.

Many of CHEGA’s fiefdoms were formerly fiefdoms of the communist left—a left that was defeated by CHEGA in the last elections. How do you explain this transfer of votes? 

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The truth is that in the different elections in which we have participated there has been great growth in places where, traditionally, the left had an important presence.

This is mainly due to the fact that in these places there are problems of dependence on subsidies, as well as phenomena of criminality that in many cases are associated with certain groups that are not integrated into society and live outside the law, with the consequent feeling of insecurity among the population for which the traditional parties have no answer.

Unlike these parties, CHEGA! is not afraid to identify problems, even if they are politically incorrect, and this is appreciated by the people, as shown in the election results.

What are CHEGA’s main issues in the Portuguese parliament?

We have brought to Parliament measures that until now were considered taboo and which we want to be discussed, despite the fact that the President of the Assembly of the Republic continues to put obstacles in the way of their discussion. Parliament took office just over three months ago and CHEGA! has already seen three initiatives blocked, such as the proposal for life imprisonment for particularly vicious crimes, especially against children, the increase of the maximum sentence to 65 years, or even the end of parliamentary immunity.

However, other issues have been put on the table, such as increasing the risk allowance for the security forces, anti-corruption measures such as the “delação premiada” (rewarded denunciation), and increasing the penalties applicable to these crimes, and also the end of tax benefits for political parties.

CHEGA! will also present a constitutional revision in September that aims to touch what the system does not want to be touched, and which, among other changes, will address issues such as life imprisonment, the reduction of deputies and political office holders, and lifetime incompatibilities for ministers who head agencies and then, after leaving office, start working in them.

Courtesy: CHEGA!

In Spain, VOX has reached an agreement to govern with the Popular Party in Castilla y León. Is something similar possible in Portugal with the center-right PSD?

CHEGA! is always available for a government solution on the right that is a real alternative to socialism. That is why we have already challenged, more than once, the PSD and the Liberal Initiative to talk in a big conference to create an alternative to the socialist space in Portugal, so that we can walk a common path, respecting our differences. The response of these parties is well known, and so far it has always been negative.

In any case, we will never give up affirming our principles and values in any government agreement we make, and we will always demand concrete changes that respond to the needs of the country and the Portuguese people, just as we will not give up in the case of the Autonomous Region of the Azores, whose government depends on CHEGA’s support since 2020. We will never be a crutch for any governmental solution.

In the case of the Azores, the conditions for such an agreement include key issues such as reducing the number of regional MPs, creating an anti-corruption office, and reducing the region’s very high level of dependence on subsidies. However, there are still many things missing and missing. If the promises are kept and the agreement is implemented, there is nothing to fear. If not, we will see what happens.

I saw your intervention in Viva 21 in Madrid. What is your relationship with VOX and what do you share with Santiago Abascal’s party?

CHEGA! shares many concerns with Vox and, although we belong to different political families — CHEGA in Identity and Democracy and Vox in European Conservatives and Reformists — in many cases we fight the same battles.

There have been several contacts between the two parties and between myself and Santiago Abascal, and in those contacts, we have had the opportunity to deepen our relationship. We can only win if we have common strategies for the global problems that affect not only Portugal and Spain, but also other countries in Europe and the West. In this sense, it is also important to have a common European strategy for both parties so that we can be heard more forcefully in the European institutions.

Moreover, in both countries we are governed by socialists, so we have a common adversary that has been destroying our countries and that we have to defeat as soon as possible.

Do you know the trade union Solidarity supported by VOX? Would a patriotic trade union be possible in Portugal?

I only know the union through some news from Spain that I have read. In any case, it seems to me a mistake to think that there are forms of associationism, such as trade unionism, that are exclusive to the left and forbidden to the right.

This error stems from the fact that most trade unions, as we know them in Portugal and Spain, are mostly associated with the left and in most cases are the main enemies of the workers through the measures they promote, subverting what they claim to be their main mission, which is to defend them.

But it does not have to be that way, any more than it was with the Polish trade union “Solidarity”, led by Lech Wałęsa, which played a decisive role in bringing down communism in Poland and the “iron curtain”.

In June, you were in Antwerp at the ID meeting, and shortly afterward you met with Claudiu Tarziu of the AUR party of Romania in Lisbon. How important are relations with other European parties for CHEGA?

The importance of Europe in Portugal’s international insertion strategy is enormous, considering that many of the national policies and those of the different member states are designed and influenced by the institutions of the European Union.

In this sense, it is essential to develop and deepen relations with European political parties that defend the same causes and fight the same battles as CHEGA!, drawing common strategies to strengthen the voice of these parties in the different European and international forums.

CHEGA! has shown its support for Ukraine in the face of the Russian invasion. Do you think the European response is being sufficient? What is CHEGA’s position on this issue?

CHEGA! believes that the Russian invasion of Ukraine deserves the most severe public and political condemnation, as well as severe economic sanctions, unlike far-left parties in Portugal and across Europe.

In fact, we join the various economic sanctions packages imposed by the European Union and by most countries in the world, and we believe that Europe must invest in its Armed Forces and stand firm and united in the face of a threat that is becoming more dangerous every day and whose intentions are increasingly unpredictable.

Álvaro Peñas is a political analyst specializing in Eastern European countries. He writes for El Correo de España and several European digital outlets. He is deputy director of two programs on Decisión Radio and a regular contributor to the television channel 7NN.

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