Polls opened in Portugal’s presidential elections on Sunday morning as the country faces record-high levels of COVID-19 deaths and infections.
The country has been under lockdown for 10 days, and the epidemiological situation continues to worsen.
On Saturday, the Health Ministry reported 15,133 new infections and 274 more deaths – the highest figures for both since the pandemic began.
Lockdown exceptions are being granted for people to leave their homes to cast ballots on Sunday.
Portugal’s president has no legislative powers, but can dissolve parliament and call new elections.
The incumbent Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa is the clear frontrunner, with opinion polls suggesting he will win around 60% of the vote.
Although Rebelo de Sousa is a conservative, he has worked closely and amicably with Socialist Prime Minister Antonio Costa. Costa even held back from giving his support to the Socialist presidential candidate.
The rest of Portugal’s presidential hopefuls are polling below 15%.
But if Rebelo de Sousa doesn’t win 50% of the vote, the country will be forced into a runoff.
“If abstention reaches 70%, it would make a second round of voting almost inevitable,” Rebelo de Sousa said earlier this week.
All eyes are on André Ventura, a far-right populist who is polling neck-in-neck with the socialist candidate for second place.
Portugal has remained one of the few European countries where an anti-immigrant, nationalist politician in the style of Marine Le Pen hasn’t managed to break into mainstream politics in a significant way.
In the October 2019 general election, Ventura’s Chega (Enough) party won just 1.3% of the vote. Now, he is polling at around 11%.
Portugal does not allow mail-in voting for presidential elections, but around 250,000 people registered for early voting.
Throughout the week, volunteers went door-to-door collecting ballots from people who are in quarantine or residents of nursing homes.
More voting stations are also open this year to reduce crowds, and voters are being asked to bring their own pens.