LISBON (Reuters) – The election campaign launch by Portugal’s far-right presidential candidate, Andre Ventura, got off to a shaky start on Friday when reporters walked out on his joint news conference with visiting French counterpart Marine Le Pen due to a lack of social distancing.
Invited to a small, windowless conference room in a hotel basement in Lisbon, most of the several dozen reporters decided to leave over fears of coronavirus contagion, just as Portugal reported record daily infections and deaths.
But the incident did not appear to upset Ventura of the Chega party, whose political rise has troubled rights groups.
The two far-right leaders ended up speaking to the media outdoors before laying a wreath at the monument to fallen soldiers on Lisbon’s main thoroughfare.
“We want another political system, we want another constitution, a different way to do justice,” said Ventura, who is known for his derogatory remarks against ethnic minorities, especially Roma communities.
Although there is little doubt current President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa will comfortably win a second term in the Jan. 24 election, Ventura, who in 2019 grabbed the far-right’s first parliamentary seat since the end of dictatorship in 1974, could get around 10% of the vote, according to opinion polls.
Le Pen said it seemed “incongruous” Portugal had until now “remained on the sidelines of this great world movement.”
In 2019, Chega, which means “enough” in Portuguese, only received 1.3% of the vote so prospects of his increasing that to 10% are worrying rights groups who say he is fuelling racism and xenophobia in a country where the far-right is not as present as in other European nations.
“Ventura getting a good result (in the presidential election) will be touted as a sign he will get an excellent result in parliamentary elections,” said political scientist Marina Costa Lobo.
Ventura, a former soccer commentator and active social media user, last year called for a Black fellow MP with dual Portuguese-Guinean citizenship to be “returned to her own country” and has recently been fined for discriminatory remarks about Roma.
“This is normalising extreme-right groups,” anti-fascism activist Jonathan Costa said. “This is the most dangerous thing.”
(Reporting by Catarina Demony; Editing by Andrei Khalip and Cynthia Osterman)