People are only allowed to leave their homes for essential work or travel and to vote under Portugal’s current lockdown.
Portuguese voters – largely confined to their homes due to a strict COVID-19 lockdown – will choose a new president on Sunday, but many fear that going to the polls could worsen an increase in coronavirus cases and a low turnout is expected.
The country of 10 million people, which weathered the first wave of the pandemic better than others, now has the world’s highest seven-day moving average of new cases and deaths per capita.
Authorities reported a record daily death toll of 274 and more than 15,300 new cases on Saturday.
The explosion of new infections is mainly the result of the spread of the most contagious variant discovered for the first time in Britain.
Given the troubling coronavirus figures and the imposition of a second nationwide lockdown last week, Friday’s traditional last round of political campaigning has been dropped.
“It wouldn’t have been a problem to wait another month. Exceptional times call for exceptional measures, ”Miguel Goncalves, 55-year-old Lisbon resident, told Reuters news agency.
Nearly two-thirds of voters believe the election should be postponed, according to a poll by research institute ICS / ISCTE last week.
Delaying the ballot would have required changing the country’s constitution – something officials said was not possible in such a short time frame, but the decision to continue voting for the largely ceremonial president has been widely criticized.
“They should have spread the vote over more days,” political scientist Joao Cancela of IPRE-NOVA University told Reuters.
“It is a mistake to think that the only options were to delay or stay as is.”
Voting is the only reason people are allowed to leave their homes for anything other than essential work or travel under current national foreclosure rules.
Pollsters expect record abstentions, even as teams of volunteers dressed in protective gear collected ballots at the gates of some 13,000 quarantined voters and about 250,000 people registered for early voting to avoid crowds.
“We now face a double-edged sword – high abstentions and the fact that those who show up will be out of their homes,” said opposition leader Rui Rio.
Opinion polls show incumbent president Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa of the center-right Social Democratic Party is likely to easily win re-election, with left-wing candidate Ana Gomes in second at 13.5- 14.5% and far-right Chega party leader Andre Ventura, just behind at 10-12.5 percent.
Despite their essentially ceremonial role, presidents can veto certain laws and declare states of emergency.