Capital: Lisbon
Population: 10,600,000

Political Rights Score: 1 *
Civil Liberties Score: 1 *
Status: Free


In the run-up to the September 2009 parliamentary elections, in which Prime Minister Jose Socrates' Socialist Party narrowly won reelection, a scandal erupted over an allegation that the Socialist government was spying on President Anibal Cavaco Silva. Meanwhile, corruption continued to be an issue of concern throughout the year.

Portugal was proclaimed a republic in 1910, after King Manuel II abdicated during a bloodless revolution. Antonio de Oliveira Salazar became prime minister in 1932 and ruled the country as a fascist dictatorship until 1968, when his lieutenant, Marcello Caetano, replaced him. During the "Marcello Spring," repression and censorship were relaxed somewhat, and a liberal wing developed inside the one-party National Assembly. In 1974, a bloodless coup by the Armed Forces Movement, which opposed the ongoing colonial wars in Mozambique and Angola, overthrew Caetano.

A transition to democracy began with the election of a Constitutional Assembly that adopted a democratic constitution in 1976. A civilian government was formally established in 1982 after a revision of the constitution brought the military under civilian control, curbed the president's powers, and abolished the unelected Revolutionary Council. Portugal became a member of the European Economic Community (later the European Union, or EU) in 1986, and in early 2002, Portugal adopted the euro. In 1999, Portugal handed over its last colonial territory, Macao, to the People's Republic of China.

Anibal Cavaco Silva, a center-right candidate who had served as prime minister from 1985 to 1995, won the 2006 presidential election, marking the first time in Portugal's recent history that the president and prime minister hailed from opposite sides of the political spectrum.

Portugal held the rotating EU presidency for the second half of 2007, during which time Portugal oversaw the drafting the Treaty of Lisbon, which replaced the proposed EU constitution that had been rejected in 2005. Ratification of the treaty by the 27-country bloc was completed in November 2009.

In the September 2009 legislative elections, Jose Socrates' governing Socialist Party won a narrow victory with 37 percent of the vote. The centre-right Social Democratic Party captured 29 percent, followed by the Democratic and Social Centre/People's Party with nearly 11 percent. After talks of forming a coalition fell apart, the Socialists formed a minority government in October.

Leading up to the September election, an espionage scandal overtook election coverage when the newspaper Publico reported that President Silva feared that he was under surveillance by the Socialist government. The opposition newspaper, Diario de Noticias, alleged that the story was leaked by Silva's longtime advisor, Fernando Lima, who was subsequently fired by Silva at the end of September. The president addressed the scandal following the elections, denying reports that he thought the presidency was under surveillance and claiming that Lima had been let go due to the disruption caused by his supposed involvement.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties

Portugal is an electoral democracy. The 230 members of the unicameral legislature, the Assembly of the Republic, are elected every four years using a system of proportional representation. The president, elected for up to two five-year terms, holds no executive powers, though he can delay legislation with a veto and dissolve the Assembly to call early elections. The prime minister is nominated by the Assembly, and the choice is confirmed by the president. The constitution was amended in 1997 to allow resident noncitizens to vote in presidential elections.

The Portuguese have the right to organize and join political parties and other political groupings of their choice, except for fascist organizations. The main political parties are the Socialist Party, the Social Democratic Party, and the Social Centre/People's Party. The autonomous regions of Azores and Madeira – two island groups in the Atlantic – have their own political structures with legislative and executive powers. In 2009, Jose Socrates sought to impose term limits on the autonomous regions in a broader attempt to further autonomy.

Corruption scandals continued to make headlines in 2009. In January, Prime Minister Jose Socrates was accused of having granted the British developing company, Freeport, permission to build a shopping mall on protected land outside of Lisbon in exchange for bribes in 2002 during his tenure as Environment Minister; Jose da Mota, the head of Eurojust, an EU judicial body, allegedly tried to persuade investigators to curb their inquiries at the behest of the premier and the minister of justice. Da Mota stepped down as head of Eurojust in December after being suspended over the affair. Investigations continued at the year's end. Separately, Portuguese police in November carried out a wide-spread operation to expose suspects – including former cabinet minister Armando Vara – engaged in a scheme to illicitly obtain industrial waste contracts. Vara was on trial at year's end. Portugal was ranked 35 out of 180 countries surveyed in Transparency International's 2009 Corruption Perceptions Index.

Freedom of the press is guaranteed by the constitution, and laws against insulting the government or the armed forces are rarely enforced. The inadequately funded public broadcasting channels face serious competition from commercial television outlets. In the run-up to the 2009 elections, the television station TVI pulled a program about the Freeport scandal which implicated Socrates. The program's presenter and senior editors criticized the move as censorship and resigned in protest. Internet access in Portugal is generally not restricted.

Although the country is overwhelmingly Roman Catholic, the constitution guarantees freedom of religion and forbids religious discrimination. The Religious Freedom Act provides religions that have been established in the country for at least 30 years (or recognized internationally for at least 60 years) with a number of benefits formerly reserved for the Catholic Church, such as tax exemptions, legal recognition of marriage and other rites, and respect for traditional holidays. Academic freedom is respected.

Freedoms of assembly and association are honored, and national and international nongovernmental organizations, including human rights groups, operate in the country without government interference. Workers enjoy the right to organize, bargain collectively, and strike for any reason, including political ones. Despite months of protest by labor organizations, the government adopted a labor law in June 2008 making it easier for employers to hire and dismiss employees. In March 2009, Portugal saw its first general strike since 2002. Approximately 200,000 people marched in Lisbon to demand higher salaries and to protest rising unemployment and continued government proposals to adjust labor laws. Only 35 percent of the workforce is unionized.

The constitution provides for an independent court system. However, staff shortages and inefficiency have contributed to a considerable backlog of pending trials. Human rights groups have expressed concern about unlawful police shootings, deaths in police custody, and poor prison conditions, including overcrowding, poor sanitary conditions, and high rates of HIV/AIDS among inmates. The prison population – as a percentage of the total population – is larger than the EU average. A March 2009 report by the Council of Europe's Committee for the Prevention of Torture expressed continued concern over mistreatment of prisoners including the aforementioned infringements.

The constitution guarantees equal treatment under the law. The government has taken a number of steps to combat racism, including passing antidiscrimination laws and launching initiatives to promote the integration of immigrants and Roma. A 2007 immigration law facilitates family reunification and legalization for immigrants in specific circumstances, such as those who applied under "immigration amnesty." According to a 2008 study by the Observatory for Immigration, immigrants pay discriminatorily high taxes, little of which is channeled to projects directly benefiting foreign citizens.

Domestic violence against women remains a problem, and few cases are brought to trial; over 7,000 cases were reported in the first half of 2008. A 2008 report from the General Confederation of Portuguese Workers revealed that women earn four times less than men. In August 2009, a lesbian couple lost their court appeal to marry as the Portuguese government declared gay marriage unconstitutional. After the September elections, a Secretary for Equality position was created to promote women as equal members of society, among other duties. The country is a destination and transit point for trafficked persons, particularly women from Eastern Europe and former Portuguese colonies in South America and Africa.

*Countries are ranked on a scale of 1-7, with 1 representing the highest level of freedom and 7 representing the lowest level of freedom.

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