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Election of the Day: Madeira


Normally, I strive to post about any national election, only covering local and regional elections if there is some particular noteworthy significance. However, a reader emailed to request a thread about today’s election in one of Portugal’s two autonomous regions, Madeira. I was happy to receive and oblige this peculiar request, although since my sense of duty to serve our readers is not deep enough to commit me to learn Portuguese, I have been able to find precious little information about this election. Here are some things we know.

  1. Madeira is an island in the Atlantic Ocean several hundred miles off the coast of Morocco. (The political jurisdiction of Madeira includes a few other smaller islands as well, one of which, Porto Santo, is lightly populated.)
  2. Medeira was uninhabited prior to Portuguese settlement in the 15th century, when Portuguese settlers fled the black plague and/or the stifling control of the nobility over rural Portuguese life. Although the ensuing decades would see immigration from a around Europe, including but not limited to Italians, Basques, and Catalans (not to mention slaves imported from the Canary Islands), it has primarily remained under Portuguese control, with brief interludes of usurpation by various other imperially minded powers (The UK, Austria-Hungary, Germany).
  3. The most famous person from Madeira, after whom the primary airport is now named, is a talented non-American footballer of some renown by the name of Cristiano Ronaldo.
  4. Yes, it is where the wine comes from. If Wikipedia is to be believed, it was the wine used in the celebratory toast of the signing of the declaration of independence.
  5. There are roughly 250,000 voters eligible to participate in this election. This is roughly equal to the total population, including minors, of the Autonomous region. This surfeit of eligible voters appears to be an artifact of Madeirans living in mainland Portugal retaining their Madeira address as their voting location.
  6. Neither of Portugal’s autonomous regions (the other being the Azores) appears to have any kind of separatist movement to speak of; they appear to be more or less content with the degree of autonomy provided to them under the current constitutional arrangement.
  7. I can’t really speak to how much autonomy that is, in practical terms, but it does provide for a distinctive legislative assembly, a 47 seat parliamentary body elected by a PR D’Hondt method election, which is being held today.
  8. This makes regional elections not particularly interesting, and dominated by the two main parties that have typically garnered the most support in mainland Portugal. Unlike the Azores, which have typically supported the center-left Socialists, Madeira has a long history of electing PSD (Social Democrats, the center-right party) governments.
  9. For most of the post-Carnation revolution era, Alberto João Jardim routinely led the center-right party to dominant majorities. Since 2015 the party has been under the leadership of Miguel Albuquerque, the former mayor of the capitol city, Funchal. While Albuquerque has kept PSD is power, their majorities have been ever smaller. In the most recent election in 2019, they failed to obtain an absolute majority of seats, and their vote share fell to a hair below 40%, less than 4% ahead of the socialists. This compelled them to rely on an alliance with CDS, a Christian Democratic party, to get to the bare minimum of seats to form a government (24, 21+3). They are running together in 2023, perhaps suggesting PSD anticipates continuing to need a coalition partner.
  10. Will PSD’s fortunes continue to decline? What is at stake if Albuquerque cannot form a government? Do the socialists have a chance of breaking through? I haven’t the foggiest.
  11. Madeira had not, prior to today, been on the list of “places I idly fantasize about visiting someday,” but that may change now, as it really does look like a lovely place to visit.

…..update: results in. PSD coalition loses one seat, from 24 to 23. It’s an important one, as it means they’ll need to find a friend somewhere. Socialists take a bigger hit, from 19 to 11, while Portugal’s late entry into the European illiberal xenophobic populist right party genre, Chega, obtains 4 seats. Several new small parties also enter the legislative assembly with one seat. Hopefully one of them less objectionable than Chaga can make an arrangement with Albuquerque.

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