2012 Scores

Status: Free
Freedom Rating: 1.0
Civil Liberties: 1
Political Rights: 1


In March 2011, Prime Minister Jose Socrates stepped down after failing to pass his government's fourth austerity budget proposal. Early elections in June saw the victory of the centre-right Social Democratic Party headed by Pedro Passos Coelho. Massive protests swept the country throughout the year due to the dire financial situation that has troubled the country since 2008.

Portugal was proclaimed a republic in 1910 after King Manuel II abdicated during a bloodless revolution. António 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 to 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 formally adopted the euro currency in 2002. The country handed over its last colonial territory, Macao, to the People's Republic of China in 1999.

Aníbal Cavaco Silva, a center-right candidate who had served as prime minister from 1985 to 1995, won the 2006 presidential election. He was reelected in a January 2011 presidential poll.

While holding the rotating EU presidency during the second half of 2007, Portugal oversaw the drafting of the Lisbon Treaty, an agreement that outlined the constitutional framework of the EU. Ratification of the treaty by the 27-country bloc was completed in November 2009.

In March 2011, Jose Socrates of the Socialist Party stepped down as prime minister after his government's fourth austerity budget proposal was rejected by all five opposition parties. Early elections were held in June and saw the victory of the Social Democratic Party (PSD) with 39 percent of the vote, compared to the Socialist Party's 28 percent. PSD leader Pedro Passos Coelho immediately formed a coalition government with the Popular Party.

A series of protests swept the nation in 2011 in response to the financial crisis that has gripped the country for several years. Tens of thousands of people took to the streets in March to protest against a proposed austerity budget, which the parliament ultimately rejected. Another mass protest took place in Lisbon in October, in response to the government's plan to lay off more than 1,700 government workers, raise taxes, and reduce severance pay in the wake of its acceptance of a 78 billion euro (US$96 billion) bailout package from the International Monetary Fund and EU. In October, two of Portugal's largest trade unions, the General Confederation of Portuguese Workers and the General Workers' Union, announced that they would organize a massive strike in November to protest the worsening economy. The ensuing marches were peaceful, and no clashes or arrests were reported.

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 can serve up to two five-year terms; while the position is largely ceremonial, the president can delay legislation through a veto, dissolve the assembly to trigger early elections, and is the commander in chief of the armed forces and has the power to declare war. The prime minister is nominated by the assembly, and is then confirmed by the president. The constitution was amended in 1997 to allow Portuguese citizens living abroad to vote in presidential and legislative elections as well as national referendums.

The main political parties are the Socialist Party, the PSD, 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.

Portugal continued to struggle with corruption issues throughout 2011. Portuguese police had carried out a widespread operation in November 2009 to expose companies engaged in illicitly obtaining industrial waste contracts. A number of officials linked to Socialist Prime Minister Jose Socrates were implicated in the scandal, known as "Hidden Face." While Socrates was not implicated, the scandal damaged his government's credibility. Over 30 people were implicated in the scandal, and their trials for graft, money laundering, and influence peddling opened in November 2011. In May 2011, Transparency International released a report recommending that Portugal improve its training for prosecutors, investigators, and judges in corruption cases; that it increase public awareness about foreign bribery in the private sector; and that it encourage companies to offer whistleblower protection in an effort to lower Portugal's high corruption rate.

Freedom of the press is constitutionally guaranteed, and laws against insulting the government or armed forces are rarely enforced. The poorly funded public broadcasting channels face serious competition from commercial television outlets. 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 only 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 interference. Workers enjoy the right to organize, bargain collectively, and strike for any reason, including a political motive. However, a 2003 labor law mandated that workers assess a proposed strike's impact on citizens, and provide minimal services during such an event. Thousands of people in 2011 participated in public protests and strikes amid high unemployment and other economic struggles, including a massive November 2011 strike against the government's austerity budget. Only 19 percent of the workforce is unionized.

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, though staff shortages and inefficiency have contributed to a considerable backlog of pending trials. Human rights groups have expressed concern over unlawful police shootings and deaths in custody. Criticism also continues over poor prison conditions, including overcrowding, poor sanitary conditions, mistreatment of prisoners by police and prison guards, and relatively high rates of HIV/AIDS among inmates.

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. According to a 2008 study by the Observatory for Immigration, immigrants pay excessively high taxes, though little revenue is channeled to projects that benefit them directly.

Domestic violence against women and children remains a problem, and few domestic violence cases are prosecuted. Portugal is a destination and transit point for trafficked persons, particularly women from Eastern Europe and former Portuguese colonies in South America and Africa. In May 2010, Portugal became the sixth European nation to legalize same-sex marriage.

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