Masked, socially distanced and each given their own pen to avoid spreading germs, the Portuguese headed to the polls on Sunday (January 24) to vote in a presidential election that is powering ahead even as coronavirus cases reach record levels.
In Lisbon’s Santo Antonio parish, early-bird voters queued up as polls opened, guided by red stickers on the ground marking the two-metre gap between them.
“I’m here among the first people to avoid crowds and queues of people. Since the date of the elections wasn’t changed, I decided to come early to avoid that situation,” Cristina Queda, 58, said as she waited.
Queda’s view is shared by just under two thirds of Portuguese who thought the election should be postponed because of the pandemic, according to a poll conducted last week by research institute.
Pollsters predict record abstention of 60-70% in part because hundreds of thousands of voters are themselves in quarantine. Incumbent Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa is expected to win the – largely ceremonial – role again, with around 60% of votes.
Still, Santo Antonio parish head Vasco Morgado said councils had taken all precautions – in his parish’s case, including even ambulances at the door in case of emergency.
“This is as safe as it can be at this time,” Morgado said. “It’s a democratic act which many people fought for over many years – the proof of which is that now, even in a pandemic, people are getting out to vote,” he added.
The country of 10 million people is experiencing a severe post-Christmas pandemic surge, with the world’s highest seven-day rolling average of new cases and deaths per capita.
Authorities reported a record daily toll of 274 deaths and more than 15,300 new cases on Saturday, with ambulances queuing for several hours at hospitals packed to the brim.
“I don’t agree that the date wasn’t changed,” Jose Antonio Queda, 72, who also came early with his wife, said. “If we’re in confinement, we should be avoiding the virus as much as possible.”