Politics of Portugal

Coat of arms of Portugal
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Politics in Portugal takes place in a framework of a semi-presidential representative democratic republic, whereby the Prime Minister of Portugal is the head of government. Portugal has a multi-party system. The President of Portugal is the executive head of state and has several significant political powers, which he exercises often. Executive power is exercised by the President and the Council of Ministers. Legislative power is vested in both the government and the Assembly of the Republic. The judiciary is independent of the executive and the legislature.

Since 1975, the party system has been dominated by the social democratic Socialist Party and the liberal-conservative Social Democratic Party.

Political background

The national and regional governments are dominated by two political parties, the Socialist Party (PS), a social democratic party that resembles British Labour or the German SPD, and the Social Democratic Party (PSD), a liberal-conservative party and member of the European Parliament's European People's Party group, which have similar basic policies in some respects: both are pro-Europe and support the market economy. Other parties with seats in the parliament are the Portuguese Communist Party, the CDS – People's Party, the Left Bloc and the Ecologist Party "The Greens". The Communists and the Greens are in coalition as the Unitary Democratic Coalition.

In 2011, Pedro Passos Coelho was the prime minister for the liberal-conservative Social Democratic Party in coalition with the right-wing conservative People's Party. The coalition was supported by a majority in the Parliament of 132 MPs. The major opposition party was the Socialist Party (the party of the former Prime Minister José Sócrates) with 74 MPs. Also represented were the Portuguese Communist Party (16 MPs), "The Greens" (2 MPs) and the Left Bloc (8 MPs), all to the left of the governing coalition.

In the election of 2015, which the Social Democratic Party and People's Party contested as a coalition, Portugal Ahead, the government lost its absolute majority. The left-wing parties, the Socialist Party, Portuguese Communist Party, Ecologist Party "The Greens", and Left Bloc, argued that as they were willing to form a coalition which would have a majority in the assembly, they ought to be invited to form the government, while Portugal Ahead, as the largest grouping, argued that they should be invited to form the government. After three weeks of uncertainty, the President designated Passos Coelho as Prime Minister, which was followed by the formation of a minority government. Since then the left-wing parties, led by the Socialist Party, have formed the goverment.


The São Bento Palace, home to the Portuguese Assembly of the Republic, in Lisbon

The first Portuguese Constitution was drafted in 1822. Several revolutions led to the constitutions of 1822 (Liberal Revolution of 1820), 1826, 1838 (Liberal Wars), 1911 (1910 Republican revolution), 1933 (28 May 1926 coup d'état).

Portugal's 25 April 1976 constitution reflected the country's 1974–76 move from authoritarian rule to provisional military government to a representative democracy with some initial Communist and left-wing influence. The military coup in 1974, which became known as the Carnation Revolution, was a result of multiple internal and external factors like the colonial wars that ended in removing the dictator, Marcelo Caetano, from power. The prospect of a communist takeover in Portugal generated considerable concern among the country's NATO allies. The revolution also led to the country abruptly abandoning its colonies overseas and to the return of an estimated 600,000 Portuguese citizens from abroad. The 1976 constitution, which defined Portugal as a "Republic... engaged in the formation of a classless society," was revised in 1982, 1989, 1992, 1997, 2001, and 2004.

The 1982 revision of the constitution placed the military under strict civilian control, trimmed the powers of the president, and abolished the Revolutionary Council (a non-elected committee with legislative veto powers). The country joined the European Union in 1986, beginning a path toward greater economic and political integration with its richer neighbors in Europe. The 1989 revision of the constitution eliminated much of the remaining Marxist rhetoric of the original document, abolished the communist-inspired "agrarian reform", and laid the groundwork for further privatization of nationalized firms and the government-owned communications media. The 1992 revision made it compatible with the Maastricht treaty.

The current Portuguese constitution provides for progressive administrative decentralization and calls for future reorganization on a regional basis. The Azores and Madeira archipelagos have constitutionally mandated autonomous status. A regional autonomy statute promulgated in 1980 established the Government of the Autonomous Region of the Azores; the Government of the Autonomous Region of Madeira operates under a provisional autonomy statute in effect since 1976. Apart from the Azores and Madeira, the country is divided into 18 districts, each headed by a governor appointed by the Minister of Internal Administration. Macau, a former dependency, reverted to Chinese sovereignty in December 1999.

XIII and XIV Constitutional Governments (1995–2002)

The Socialist Party, under the leadership of António Guterres, came to power following the October 1995 legislative elections. The Socialists later won a new mandate by winning exactly half the parliamentary seats in the October 1999 election, and constituting then the XIV Constitutional Government. Socialist Jorge Sampaio won the February 1996 presidential elections with nearly 54% of the vote. Sampaio's election marked the first time since the 1974 revolution that a single party held the prime ministership, the presidency, and a plurality of the municipalities. Local elections were held in December 1997.

Prime Minister Guterres continued the privatization and modernization policies begun by his predecessor, Aníbal Cavaco Silva of the Social Democratic Party. Guterres was a vigorous proponent of the effort to include Portugal in the first round of countries to collaborate and put into effect the euro in 1999. In international relations, Guterres pursued strong ties with the United States and greater Portuguese integration with the European Union while continuing to raise Portugal's profile through an activist foreign policy. One of his first decisions as Prime Minister was to send 900 troops to participate in the IFOR peacekeeping mission in Bosnia. Portugal later contributed 320 troops to SFOR, the follow-up Bosnia operation. Portugal also contributed aircraft and personnel to NATO's Operation Allied Force in Kosovo.

XV Constitutional Government (2002–2004)

The XV Constitutional Government was led by José Manuel Durão Barroso, leader of the Social Democratic Party in coalition with the People's Party, whose leader, Paulo Portas, became Minister of Defence.

XVI Constitutional Government (2004–2005)

After José Manuel Durão Barroso accepted the invitation to be the next European Commission President, a new government had to be formed. Though opposition parties called for general elections, President Jorge Sampaio named Pedro Santana Lopes, the new Social Democratic Party leader, as Prime Minister, who thus formed a new government, in coalition with the People's Party. However, in December 2004, due to several controversies involving the government, the President dissolved the parliament and called for early elections. Santana Lopes resigned after the announcement of the President's decision.

XVII and XVIII Constitutional Governments (2005–2011)

In the elections of February 20, the Socialist Party obtained its largest victory ever, achieving an absolute majority for the first time in the party's history. Prime Minister José Sócrates was sworn in by President Jorge Sampaio on March 12. To many's surprise, Sócrates formed a cabinet made up of roughly half senior members of the Socialist Party and half independents, notably including Diogo Freitas do Amaral, founder of the right wing People's Party, who assumed office as Ministry of Foreign Affairs (he later resigned due to personal issues). Sócrates was reconducted in 2009 but lost his majority. The 2010 European debt crisis led Portugal to ask for a bailout from the IMF and the European Union. This situation led to the resignation of José Sócrates as Prime Minister and the President dissolved the parliament and called for early elections.

XIX Constitutional Government (2011–2015)

In the elections held on June 5, 2011, the Social Democratic Party won enough seats to form a majority government with the People's Party. The Government was led by Pedro Passos Coelho. It had 11 ministers and was sworn in on June 21.


Government in Portugal is made up of three branches originally envisioned by enlightenment philosopher Baron de Montesquieu: executive, legislative, and judicial. Each branch is separate and is designed to keep checks and balances on the others.

Executive branch

The President, elected to a 5-year term by direct, universal suffrage, is also commander-in-chief of the armed forces. Presidential powers include appointing the Prime Minister and Council of Ministers, in which the President must be guided by the assembly election results; dismissing the Prime Minister; dissolving the assembly to call early elections; vetoing legislation, which may be overridden by the assembly; and declaring a state of war or siege.

The Council of State, a presidential advisory body, is composed of:[1]

The president, according to the election results, names the party that shall form a government, whose leader is appointed Prime Minister. The Prime Minister names the Council of Ministers, and the ministers name their Secretaries of State. A new government is required to define the broad outline of its policy in a program and present it to the assembly for a mandatory period of debate. Failure of the assembly to reject the program by a majority of deputies confirms the government in office.

Main office holders
Office Name Party Since
President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa Social Democratic Party 9 March 2016
Prime Minister António Costa Socialist Party 26 November 2015

Legislative branch

The four main organs of the national government are the presidency, the prime minister and Council of Ministers (the government), the Assembly of the Republic (the parliament), and the judiciary. The Assembly of the Republic is a unicameral body composed of up to 230 deputies. Elected by universal suffrage according to a system of proportional representation, deputies serve terms of office of 4 years, unless the president dissolves the assembly and calls for new elections.

Political parties and elections

For other political parties, see List of political parties in Portugal. An overview on elections and election results is included in Elections in Portugal.

Summary of the 24 January 2016 Portuguese presidential election results

Candidates Supporting parties First round
Votes %
Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa Social Democratic Party, People's Party, People's Monarchist Party 2,413,956 52.00
António Sampaio da Nóvoa Independent supported by the Portuguese Workers' Communist Party, LIVRE 1,062,138 22.88
Marisa Matias Left Bloc, Socialist Alternative Movement 469,814 10.12
Maria de Belém Independent 196,765 4.24
Edgar Silva Portuguese Communist Party 183,051 3.94
Vitorino Silva Independent 152,374 3.28
Paulo de Morais Independent 100,191 2.16
Henrique Neto Independent 39,163 0.84
Jorge Sequeira Independent 13,954 0.30
Cândido Ferreira Independent 10,609 0.23
Total valid 4,642,015 100.00
Blank ballots 58,964 1.24
Invalid ballots 43,588 0.92
Total (turnout 48.66%) 4,744,597
Source: Comissão Nacional de Eleições
 Summary of the 4 October 2015 Assembly of the Republic elections results
Parties Votes % ±pp swing MPs MPs %/
votes %
2011 2015 ± % ±
Portugal Ahead (PSD / CDS–PP)[lower-alpha 1] 1,993,50436.86Decrease10.9124102Decrease2244.35Decrease10.51.20
Socialist Party 1,747,73032.32Increase4.37486Increase1237.39Increase5.21.16
Left Bloc 550,94510.19Increase5.0819Increase118.26Increase4.80.81
Democratic Unity Coalition 445,9018.25Increase0.41617Increase17.39Increase0.40.90
Social Democratic[lower-alpha 2] 81,0411.49 N/A75Decrease22.17Decrease0.91.45
People-Animals-Nature 75,1701.39Increase0.401Increase10.43Increase0.40.31
Democratic Republican 61,9201.13 N/A N/A0 N/A0.00 N/A0.0
Portuguese Workers' Communist 60,0451.11Decrease0.000Steady00.00Steady0.00.0
FREE/Time to move Foward 39,3300.73 N/A N/A0 N/A0.00 N/A0.0
National Renovator Party 27,2860.50Increase0.200Steady00.00Steady0.00.0
Earth Party 22,6270.42Increase0.000Steady00.00Steady0.00.0
We, the Citizens! 21,3820.40 N/A N/A0 N/A0.00 N/A0.0
Labour / Socialist Alternative (ACT!) 20,7930.38 N/A N/A0 N/A0.00 N/A0.0
People's Monarchist 14,9160.28Increase0.000Steady00.00Steady0.00.0
Together for the People 14,2750.26 N/A N/A0 N/A0.00 N/A0.0
United Party of Retirees and Pensioners 13,8990.26 N/A N/A0 N/A0.00 N/A0.0
People's[lower-alpha 3] 7,4960.14 N/A10Decrease10.00Decrease0.40.0
People's / People's Monarchist[lower-alpha 4] 3,6240.07 N/A00Steady00.00Steady0.00.0
Christian Democratic and Citizenship 2,685 0.05Decrease0.100Steady00.00Steady0.00.0
Labour[lower-alpha 5] 1,7440.03 N/A00Steady00.00Steady0.00.0
Total valid 5,206,113 96.27 Increase0.4 230 230 Steady0 100.00 Steady0.0
Blank ballots 112,9552.09Decrease0.6
Invalid ballots 89,0241.65Increase0.3
Total (turnout 55.84%) 5,408,092 100.00 Decrease2.2
Source: Diário da República - Resultados Oficias

Judicial branch

The national Supreme Court is the court of last appeal. Military, administrative, and fiscal courts are designated as separate court categories. A thirteen-member Constitutional Court reviews the constitutionality of legislation.

Administrative divisions

18 districts (distritos, singular distrito) and 2 autonomous regions* (regiões autónomas, singular região autónoma): Aveiro, Açores (Azores)*, Beja, Braga, Bragança, Castelo Branco, Coimbra, Évora, Faro, Guarda, Leiria, Lisboa, Madeira*, Portalegre, Porto, Santarém, Setúbal, Viana do Castelo, Vila Real, Viseu

International organization participation


See also



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