Portuguese voters streamed to the polls on Sunday in a close-fought parliamentary election, with early indications suggesting a strong turnout despite rampant coronavirus infections.
The government has allowed infected people to leave Covid isolation and cast ballots in person, recommending that they do so in the last hour before polling stations close at 7pm.
Electoral officials donned protection suits in the afternoon to receive them.
“I only went out to vote...just a bit of liberty,” said 59-year-old Laura Nobre, whose Covid isolation does not end until Friday.
“It’s great that we can vote, which is our right,” she told Reuters from behind a mask after voting at the University of Lisbon.
In a possible sign that healthy voters were heading out early to avoid the infected, almost 46 per cent of those eligible had voted by 4pm, more than the 39 per cent recorded at the same time in the last election in 2019, official data showed.
Analysts said total turnout appeared on track to beat 2019’s record low 49 per cent participation.
More than a tenth of Portugal’s 10 million people are estimated to be isolating. As in many European countries, infections have spiked, although vaccination has kept deaths and hospitalisations lower than in earlier waves.
The election is wide open as the centre-left ruling Socialists have lost much of their lead in opinion polls to the main opposition party, the centre-right Social Democrats (PSD), and neither is likely to win a stable majority.
Prime Minister Antonio Costa, as well as more than 300,000 other Portuguese, cast his ballot in early voting last weekend but accompanied his wife to a Lisbon polling station on Sunday.
Walking his two dogs, who barked while he spoke to reporters, Costa said he was “confident and serene” about the results.
His main opponent, PSD leader Rui Rio, who voted in the city of Porto also said he felt calm and urged people to head to the polls.
The vote, called in November after parliament rejected the minority Socialist government’s budget bill, could produce only a short-lived government, unless one of the main parties manages to form a working alliance.
“We want more stability but I don’t think that’s what is going to happen. I think we’ll have one or two years of instability,” said Mario Henriques, 42.
Instability could complicate Portugal’s access to a 16.6-billion-euro ($18.7 billion) package of EU pandemic recovery aid and its success in channelling funds into projects to boost economic growth in western Europe’s poorest country.
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