Portugal Government and Politics

State and politics

Portugal Country Flag

Portugal has been a republic since 1910 and since 1974 a parliamentary democracy. Two years after the military dictatorship was overthrown by an officer coup (the so-called Nejlike Revolution on April 25, 1974), a new, democratic constitution was adopted in the socialist spirit.

The 1974 revolution was largely socialist. Both politics and most political parties have since moved to the right.

Two parties have dominated Portuguese politics for the past 40 years. The political differences between these have been remarkably small. Both have worked to develop a comprehensive welfare system and support a market-oriented economic policy. They are both in favor of cooperation within the EU and the NATO military alliance.


The president is elected in general elections for five years and can be re-elected once. The president is a military commander. The President’s powers include, among other things, taking into account the results of parliamentary elections, appointing and dismissing the Prime Minister, dissolving Parliament and announcing new elections and suspending certain legislative proposals.

The legislative power lies with Parliament (Assembleia da República), whose 230 members are elected for four years in general proportional elections.

Portugal is divided into 18 constituencies. Add to this the partially self-governing archipelago of the Azores and Madeira. In these 20 constituencies, 226 seats are allocated according to the constituency’s number of registered voters. The remaining four mandates will be added after counting votes cast by Portuguese nationals residing outside the country. Voters have to decide on candidates that the parties have put on lists. There is no percentage block in the distribution of seats, but since d’Hondt’s method is used, larger parties are mainly favored.

The executive power lies mainly with the government.

Portugal is divided into 18 districts. Since 1974 various proposals have been discussed to increase the decentralization of power to the local level but have not yet reached very far in this process. However, the Azores and Madeira have had some autonomy since 1976. Self-government is exercised by a people-elected parliament and a government on each archipelago. The national government maintains close contact with the regional bodies through delegated representatives. Political life in both the Azores and Madeira is dominated by the major national parties.

On December 20, 1995, Portugal surrendered the possession of Macao outside Hong Kong to China.

Political parties

The oldest of the major Portuguese parties is the Socialist Party Partido Socialista (PS), which was formed in the early 1970s by Portuguese in exile. The party program has strong features of classic European social democracy. The party welcomes Portugal’s membership in the EU.

Despite its party name, Partido Social Democrata (PSD) is not a social democratic but a bourgeois liberal conservative party. It was founded immediately after the 1974 revolution under the term Partido Popular Democrático by right-wing liberal politicians. PSD has led coalition governments in 2002–05 and since 2011. In both cases, the coalition partner has been the Christian Democratic and Social Conservative-oriented party Centro Democrático Social – Partido Popular (CDS-PP).

In addition to the above mentioned parties, there are a number of other parties that are active at national or regional level. Most of these are small and receive less than 1 percent of the vote in national parliamentary elections.

Partido Comunista Portugues (PCP) was formed in 1921 and played a central role for the opposition to the military dictatorship. The party has its strongest base among industrial and agricultural workers and is influential in the trade union movement. After having significant political influence in the first decade after the revolution, voter support declined sharply. In order to strengthen the party’s and the left’s position in Portuguese politics, the PCP initiated cooperation with Partido Ecologista “Os Verdes” (PEV), a green left-wing party formed in 1982. Since 1987, the parties have appeared jointly under the designation Coligação Democrática Unitária(CDU). The parties have harshly criticized previous governments’ austerity policies and have advocated swift action to alleviate its financial impact on the majority of Portuguese workers.

In 1999, a number of smaller left parties decided to merge and formed Bloco de Esquerda (BE). The party had no party leader but was led by a party commission consisting of six people. In addition to a radically communist-colored program, BE was attracted early by proposals for, among other things, the legal right to abortion, the right to same-sex marriage and a liberal drug policy. Over the past decade, the party has lost much of its special profile and gradually approached the political line run by the PCP.

The Pessoas – Animais – Natureza (PAN) party is a green party that strongly emphasizes the need for increased protection of nature and the environment.


PS held the government in 2005-11, that is, during the time when the economic and financial crisis hit many countries, including Portugal, severely. The PS government’s austerity policy faced strong criticism and the party lost voter support. After losing several votes in Parliament on measures to rectify the Portuguese economy, the PS government resigned and a new election was announced until the summer of 2011. Shortly before the new election, Portugal was forced to apply for emergency loans from the EU.

In the 2011 election, the power was taken over by a bourgeois/liberal coalition. Although the PS said it would agree with the bourgeois government on the general grounds for austerity policy, the party argued for less radical measures and faster implementation of relief for individuals and businesses. Therefore, thanks to successes in the 2014 local elections, PS was able to drive a critical line against the government in the 2015 election campaign. The election result was a success. The voting share increased to 32.4 percent. After a minority government led by the PSD lost a budget vote and already had to resign after a few weeks, the president commissioned PS leader António Silva to form a new government. It became a minority government that required support in Parliament from both the PCP and the BE.

After the 2011 election, the new government took over the management of the crisis in the Portuguese economy and was immediately forced to take a series of unpopular financial austerity measures. This was met by strikes and public dissatisfaction. Since most opposition parties agreed with the government that measures of this kind were necessary to save the Portuguese economy, the protest movements did not have the same impact as in, for example, Greece or Spain.

Ahead of the 2015 parliamentary elections, criticism of the government’s decision to continue with a tight line of austerity increased. The election result was a disappointment for the two co-ruling parties PSD and CDS-PP, who went to elections under the designation Portugal à Frente (PaF). The voting share fell to 36.8 percent. After President Aníbal Cavaco Silva held discussions with the party leaders, Pedro Passos Coelho was given the task of forming a new government. However, this fell already after two weeks, when a unified opposition dropped the government’s budget proposal.

In the election results of 2015 there was a political division of the country where the area from Lisbon and north is dominated by Portugal à Frente and a southern part where the left parties are the strongest. Another trend was that voter turnout continued to decline and in 2015 reached a new bottom level of 57 percent. For the subsequent government, this meant that extensive efforts were needed to stimulate widening political interest and the political debate throughout the country. Since the government lacked majority support in Parliament, it was especially important to anchor political decisions among voters. Before 2015, only one minority government had been sitting for the entire term of office.

An early test of the minority government’s ability to get through its proposals became the debate around the budget for 2016. The results in the local elections in 2017 strengthened the PS government and the likelihood of it being able to remain throughout the term of office increased. So was the case. The support of the ruling Socialist Party was further manifested in the 2019 European elections when the party received about 33 percent of the support, giving them nine seats. The turnout was approximately 51 percent.

Even in the subsequent parliamentary elections that year, the ruling party secured its seat as the largest party. 54.5 percent of the country’s voters participated in the election, which gave the Socialist Party just over 38 percent of the vote, which was, however, too small to obtain a majority in the House, which is why the party is in need of continued support from smaller parties.

The PS government’s successful austerity policy stabilized the budget, boosted growth and wages, resulting in increased confidence among voters. However, in 2019, the country faced a number of challenges that mainly affected Portugal’s future economy. In 2019, there was a continued need to strengthen public finances, diversify the economy, boost productivity and reform the healthcare sector.

Compare the History section.


The legal system in Portugal is largely Roman and French inspired. It is mainly based on written laws, of which the largest and most important are the Civil Law, the Trade Act and the Civil Procedure Act. Among the courts are the Constitutional Court, the Supreme Court, appellate courts, general courts (district courts) and small-scale courts (municipal courts and peacemakers). In recent years, the legal system has been affected by the country’s membership of the EU. The death penalty was abolished in 1976; the last known execution took place in 1849.

Heads of State

1139-85 Alfons I
1185-1211 Sancho I
1211-23 Alfons II
1223-45 Sancho II
1245-79 Alfons III *
1279-1325 Dionysius (Dinis) I
1325-57 Alfons IV
1357-67 Peter I
1367-83 Ferdinand I
1383-85 Leonor Teles de Meneses **
1385-1433 Johan I
1433-38 Edvard
1438-81 Alfons V
1481-95 Johan II
1495-1521 Manuel I
1521-57 Johan III
1557-78 Sebastian
1578-80 Henrik
1580-98 Philip I (Philip II of Spain)
1598-1621 Philip II (Philip III of Spain)
1621-40 Philip III (Philip IV of Spain)
1640-56 Johan IV
1656-83 Alfons VI
1683-1706 Peter II
1706-50 Johan V
1750-77 Joseph I
1777-1816 Maria I
1816-26 Johan VI
1826 Peter IV
1826-28 Mary II
1828-34 Mikael I
1834-53 Mary II
1853-61 Peter V
1861-89 Louis I
1889-1908 Karl I
1908-10 Manuel II
1910-11 Joaquim Teófilo Braga
1911-15 Manoel José de Arriaga
1915 Joaquim Teófilo Braga
1915-17 Bernardino Luís Machado
1917-18 Sidónio Bernardino Cardoso da Silva Pais
1918-19 Joao do Canto e Castro
1919-23 António José de Almeida
1923-25 Manuel Teixeira Gomes
1925-26 Bernardino Luís Machado Guimaràes
1926-51 António Oscar de Fragoso Carmona ***
1951-58 Francisco Higino Craveiro Lopes
1958-74 Américo de Deus Rodrigues Tomás
1974 António de Spínola
1974-76 Francisco da Costa Gomes
1976-86 Ramalho Eanes
1986-96 Mário Soares
1996-2006 Jorge Sampaio
2006-16 Aníbal Cavaco Silva
2016- Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa

* Regent 1245–48, King 1248–79
** Regent
*** Provisional Head of State 1926–28, President 1928–51

Prime Ministers

1932-68 António Salazar
1968-74 Marcelo Caetano
1974 Adelino da Palma Carlos
1974-75 Vasco dos Santos Gonçalves
1975-76 José Batista Pinheiro de Azevedo
1976-78 Mário Soares
1978 Alfredo Nobre da Costa
1978-79 Carlos da Mota Pinto
1979-80 Maria de Lourdes Pintassilgo
1980 Francisco Sá Carneiro
1980-83 Francisco Pinto Balsemão
1983-85 Mário Soares
1985-95 Aníbal Cavaco Silva
1995-2002 António Guterres
2002-04 José Manuel Barroso
2004-05 Pedro Santana Lopes
2005-11 José Sócrates
2011-15 Pedro Passos Coelho
2015- António Costa

Portugal Head of Government

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