Navigating Government and Politics in Portugal: An informative guide tailored for expats, unraveling the country’s governance structure, political dynamics, and civic engagement opportunities.
The evolution of politics in Portugal
The history of the Portuguese government is rich and diverse, with its roots tracing back to the establishment of the Portuguese monarchy in the 12th century.
Portugal was one of the earliest nation-states in Europe, and its government has undergone significant transformations over the centuries.
Political instability and economic challenges led to a military coup in 1926, which eventually paved the way for the authoritarian Estado Novo regime under António de Oliveira Salazar in 1933.
In 1974, the Carnation Revolution, a peaceful military coup, ended the Estado Novo regime and marked the beginning of a transition to democracy. This revolution brought about significant political and social changes, leading to the adoption of a democratic constitution in 1976.
The current constitutional framework of Portugal is based on the Constitution of the Portuguese Republic, which was adopted on April 2, 1976. This constitution provides the fundamental principles and structure of the government, ensuring the protection of individual rights, democracy, and the rule of law.
The Constitution of the Portuguese Republic establishes Portugal as a democratic state, based on the rule of law, sovereignty of the people, and pluralism of political expression.
The constitution also defines the organization of powers within the government, outlining the separation of powers between the executive, legislative, and judicial branches. It establishes a parliamentary system, with a President as the head of state and a Prime Minister as the head of government.
The Political System in Portugal
Portugal operates under a parliamentary democracy, where the Assembly of the Republic (Assembleia da República) holds a central role as the country’s legislative body.
The Assembly of the Republic serves as the nucleus of Portugal’s political decision-making. It is a unicameral parliament consisting of Members of Parliament (MPs) who are elected by the citizens in regular general elections. The Assembly’s primary function is to pass laws, approve the national budget, and exercise oversight over the executive branch.
The Assembly of the Republic comprises a total of 230 seats and the number of seats held by each party is determined by their share of the popular vote in the general elections.
To facilitate the electoral process, Portugal is divided into multiple electoral districts. Currently, there are 22 electoral districts that help determine the allocation of seats in the Assembly of the Republic. These districts are based on geographical regions and serve as the basis for distributing seats among the parties.
Political Parties in Portugal
Socialist Party (Partido Socialista, PS)
The Socialist Party is a center-left party that advocates for social democracy, welfare state policies, and progressive social reforms. It has been one of the dominant parties in Portuguese politics and has held government positions at various times.
Social Democratic Party (Partido Social Democrata, PSD)
The Social Democratic Party is a center-right party that promotes conservative and liberal-conservative policies. It emphasizes free-market principles, economic liberalism, and fiscal responsibility. The PSD has also been a major force in Portuguese politics and has alternated in power with the Socialist Party.
Communist Party (Partido Comunista Português, PCP)
The Communist Party is a left-wing party that adheres to communist ideology and advocates for workers’ rights, public ownership of key industries, and social equality. It has a long history in Portuguese politics and has consistently maintained a significant presence in the parliament.
Left Bloc (Bloco de Esquerda, BE)
The Left Bloc is a left-wing party that combines elements of socialism, environmentalism, and social justice. It emerged in the late 1990s as a progressive force and has gained support among younger voters and activists. The Left Bloc has been influential in pushing for social and environmental reforms.
Chega is a right-wing populist party that emerged in 2019. It emphasizes national identity, traditional values, and stricter immigration policies. Chega has attracted attention for its strong anti-establishment rhetoric and positions on security and law enforcement.
People's Party (Partido Popular, CDS-PP)
The People’s Party is a center-right party that represents Christian democratic values, conservative principles, and liberal economics. It has traditionally been associated with Christian-oriented policies and has participated in coalition governments with the Social Democratic Party.
People Animals Nature (Pessoas-Animais-Natureza – PAN)
PAN is a progressive party that focuses on environmental issues, animal rights, and social justice. It advocates for sustainable development, protection of biodiversity, and the promotion of animal welfare. PAN has gained increased support in recent years and has secured representation in the parliament.
Liberal Initiative (Iniciativa Liberal – IL)
IL is a liberal party that promotes classical liberal principles, limited government intervention, and economic freedom. It advocates for deregulation, lower taxes, and individual liberties. IL has positioned itself as a pro-market alternative in Portuguese politics.
LIVRE is a left-wing party that focuses on social justice, equality, and human rights. It advocates for a participatory democracy, sustainable development, and progressive social policies. LIVRE emerged from social movements and seeks to address social and environmental challenges through inclusive and progressive politics.
Voting in Portugal
At the core of Portugal’s democratic system lies the act of voting, which grants eligible citizens the power to shape the direction of their nation.
To participate, individuals must meet the criteria of Portuguese citizenship and be at least 18 years old, with their names registered on the electoral roll.
The electoral system in Portugal operates on a proportional representation basis, wherein voters cast their ballots not for individual candidates, but for political parties.
This approach ensures that the composition of the Assembly of the Republic reflects the overall distribution of votes across the country.
General elections, held at regular intervals of around four years, serve as the cornerstone of Portugal’s democratic process.
The President, in consultation with political parties, determines the election date, paving the way for citizens to exercise their democratic right.
Portugal is divided into electoral districts, which function as geographically defined constituencies.
To accommodate those unable to vote in person, Portugal allows for postal voting and absentee voting. These options cater to individuals temporarily residing abroad or facing circumstances that prevent them from physically attending polling stations.
Can expats participate in elections in Portugal?
Expats who are EU citizens have the opportunity to participate in political activities and elections in Portugal.
They can exercise their right to vote in local elections, allowing them to have a say in the local governance of their municipality.
However, when it comes to national elections, expats can only vote if they have acquired Portuguese citizenship.
President of Portugal
The President of Portugal, currently Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, holds a prominent role in the country’s political landscape. Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa was elected as the President of Portugal in January 2016 and re-elected for a second term in January 2021.
As the head of state, the President of Portugal carries significant responsibilities and powers. Their main responsibility is to represent the nation both domestically and internationally.
The President serves as a symbol of unity and continuity, fostering national cohesion and promoting Portugal’s interests on the global stage.
One of the main President’s powers include appointing the Prime Minister and accepting the resignation of the government.
They also have the authority to dissolve the Assembly of the Republic, Portugal’s legislative body, and call for new elections.
Furthermore, the President acts as the commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces and has the authority to declare a state of emergency or martial law in exceptional circumstances.
Prime Minister of Portugal
https://www.portugal.gov.pt/en/gc23The Prime Minister of Portugal, currently António Costa, is a central figure in the country’s political landscape.
António Costa assumed office as Prime Minister on October 26, 2015, following the victory of his party, the Socialist Party (Partido Socialista – PS), in the general elections held earlier that month.
He was re-elected for a second term as Prime Minister on October 6, 2019, after the PS secured another victory in the general elections.
As the head of government, the Prime Minister holds a crucial role in leading the executive branch and driving the implementation of government policies.
Their primary responsibility is to oversee the day-to-day operations of the government, ensuring the effective functioning of public administration and the delivery of essential services to the Portuguese people.
The Prime Minister is responsible for setting the strategic direction of the country, formulating policies, and making critical decisions that shape Portugal’s future.
They work closely with various ministries and government departments, providing guidance and coordination to achieve the government’s objectives.
The electoral system in Portugal
The electoral system in Portugal encompasses multiple levels of representation, including presidential, parliamentary, local (municipal and parish), and European elections.
Each election type has its own unique characteristics and procedures, ensuring democratic participation and representation at different levels of government.
Presidential elections in Portugal are held to elect the President of the Republic. These elections utilize a two-round system.
In the first round, multiple candidates compete, and if no candidate secures an absolute majority (50%+1) of the votes, a second round is held between the two leading candidates.
This system ensures that the elected President enjoys broad support and legitimacy.
Parliamentary elections in Portugal are crucial for determining the composition of the Assembly of the Republic, the national legislative body.
The electoral system used for parliamentary elections is based on proportional representation with closed party lists.
The country is divided into multiple electoral districts, and seats in the parliament are allocated proportionally to the votes received by each political party or coalition.
This system promotes fair representation and ensures that parties are allocated seats in proportion to their level of support.
Local Elections (Municipal and Parish)
Local elections in Portugal encompass both municipal and parish levels of government.
Municipal elections determine the composition of municipal councils, responsible for local governance in municipalities, while parish elections determine the composition of parish assemblies, responsible for local governance at the parish level.
These elections also employ proportional representation with closed party lists. Seats are allocated proportionally to parties based on the votes received, promoting local representation and participation in decision-making processes.
European elections in Portugal allow citizens to elect Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) who represent their interests at the European Union level.
These elections employ proportional representation with closed party lists, and Portugal serves as a single electoral district for European Parliament elections.
Seats are allocated proportionally to parties based on the votes received.
This system ensures that the elected MEPs accurately reflect the distribution of votes and party support across the country.
Relations with the European Union
Portugal has been a member of the European Union (EU) since 1986. As an EU member state, Portugal participates in the decision-making processes of the Union and adheres to EU laws and regulations.
Portuguese citizens are also European Union citizens, benefiting from the rights and privileges associated with EU membership, including the freedom of movement and the ability to work and reside in other EU member states.
Portugal is represented in the EU institutions, which include, European Commission, European Council, European Parliament and Council of the European Union.
Portugal is a member of the Eurozone, adopting the euro as its currency in 1999. Economic and monetary policy decisions for the Eurozone are made collectively by member states, with the European Central Bank (ECB) playing a central role in managing the euro and ensuring price stability.
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Frequently asked questions about the Political system in Portugal
What is the political system in Portugal?
Portugal has a semi-presidential democratic republic, where the President is the head of state and the Prime Minister is the head of government.
How often are elections held in Portugal?
General elections for the Assembly of the Republic, the country’s parliament, are held every four years.
How many major political parties are there in Portugal?
Portugal has several major political parties, including the Socialist Party (PS), Social Democratic Party (PSD), Left Bloc (BE), and Communist Party (PCP).
What are the key institutions of government in Portugal?
The key institutions of government in Portugal include the President, the Assembly of the Republic, the Council of Ministers, and the Constitutional Court.
Can expats participate in political activities and elections in Portugal?
Yes, expats who are EU citizens can vote in local elections in Portugal. However, they cannot vote in national elections unless they have acquired Portuguese citizenship.