PR Political Rights 39 40
CL Civil Liberties 57 60
Last Year's Score & Status
96 100 Free
Global freedom statuses are calculated on a weighted scale. See the methodology.

header1 Overview

Portugal is a stable parliamentary democracy with a multiparty political system and regular transfers of power between political parties. Civil liberties are generally protected. Ongoing concerns include corruption, certain legal constraints on journalism, poor or abusive conditions for prisoners, and the effects of racial discrimination and xenophobia. Prosecutors have pursued corruption cases against top officials in recent years.

header2 Key Developments in 2019

  • In the October legislative elections, three new parties entered parliament, one of them the right-wing nationalist party, Chega, which took one seat. This was the first time a far-right party has won a seat in parliament since the end of the Salazar dictatorship in 1974.
  • The Council of Europe (CoE) stated in a report published in June that Portugal’s efforts to fight corruption are unsatisfactory. The CoE says Portugal has so far adequately implemented just 1 of their 15 recommendations since 2016.
  • In January, police were recorded on video beating and assaulting pedestrians in a neighborhood with mainly Afro-Portuguese residents, after officers had intervened in a small altercation. The attacked pedestrians had no involvement in the initial scuffle.

PR Political Rights

A Electoral Process

A1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections? 4.004 4.004

In Portugal’s parliamentary system, the prime minister holds the most executive power, though the directly elected president can delay legislation through a veto and dissolve the parliament to trigger early elections. The president serves up to two five-year terms. In the 2016 presidential election, a center-right candidate supported by the opposition Social Democratic Party (PSD) and its allies, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, won with 52 percent of the vote, easily defeating a leftist candidate backed by the ruling Socialist Party (PS), António Sampaio da Nóvoa, who took less than 23 percent.

In February 2019, Prime Minister António Costa faced and overcame a motion of no confidence which the opposition put forward in response to a series of public sector strikes. In October, the PS won the general election and Costa resumed his post as head of the new government.

A2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections? 4.004 4.004

The 230 members of the unicameral Assembly of the Republic are directly elected every four years using a system of proportional representation in 22 multimember constituencies.

In the October 2019 legislative elections, the Socialist Party (PS) came in first with 106 seats out of 230, up from 86 in the previous parliament. The opposition Social Democratic Party came in second with 77 seats—its worst result since 1983. The Left Bloc (BE) took 19 seats, the Unitary Democratic Coalition (PCP–PEV) secured 12, the conservative-right People’s Party (CDS–PP) won 5, and the People-Animals-Nature party (PAN) grabbed 4. Three new parties entered parliament, Iniciativa Liberal (IL), Chega (CH) and Livre (L), with one seat each. Chega became the first far-right nationalist party to win a seat in Portugal’s parliament since the end of the Salazar dictatorship in 1974.

A3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies? 4.004 4.004

Elections in Portugal are generally free and fair. The constitution was amended in 1997 to allow Portuguese citizens living abroad to vote in presidential polls, parliamentary elections, and national referendums.

B Political Pluralism and Participation

B1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do the people have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice, and is the system free of undue obstacles to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings? 4.004 4.004

Political parties operate and compete with equal opportunity. There is no legal vote threshold for representation in the parliament, meaning smaller parties can win a seat with little more than 1 percent of the overall vote. Parties espousing racist, fascist, or regionalist values are constitutionally prohibited.

Portugal also held elections for the European Parliament in May 2019, which recorded a low voter turnout; PS won the most seats, with a comfortable plurality.

B2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections? 4.004 4.004

Portugal has established a strong pattern of peaceful power transfers through elections since it returned to democracy in the late 1970s. Three new parties have emerged in the last elections: Iniciativa Liberal, Chega, and Livre.

B3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are the people’s political choices free from domination by forces that are external to the political sphere, or by political forces that employ extrapolitical means? 4.004 4.004

Both voters and politicians are free from undue interference by forces outside the political system.

B4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, religious, gender, LGBT, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities? 4.004 4.004

Women and minority groups enjoy full political rights and participate in the political process. Women hold 38 percent of the seats in parliament, and three of them are of African descent. The autonomous regions of Azores and Madeira—two island groups in the Atlantic—have their own political structures with legislative and executive powers.

C Functioning of Government

C1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government? 4.004 4.004

Elected officials are free to determine and implement laws and policies without improper interference by unelected groups.

C2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective? 3.003 4.004

The country has struggled in recent years with major corruption scandals involving high-ranking politicians, officials, and businesspeople, though many individuals have been duly prosecuted.

The Council of Europe (CoE) published its fourth evaluation report in June 2019, noting that Portugal’s efforts to fight corruption are unsatisfactory. Several laws to enhance accountability and transparency for public office holders, including ministers, have been approved but have not entered into force. Parliament’s ethics subcommittee rarely sanctions conflicts of interest among the legislature’s members. Party financing often features irregularities and illegalities, but sanctions from the Commission for Political Accounts and Financing (ECFP) are infrequent because it is understaffed and underfunded.

The government has limited the appointments of representatives’ family members to positions in the administration.

C3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Does the government operate with openness and transparency? 4.004 4.004

Portuguese law provides for public access to government information and judicial proceedings, and state agencies generally respect this right, although several nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), like Transparency International, have unsuccessfully asked the government to release information about the Golden Visas Program.

CL Civil Liberties

D Freedom of Expression and Belief

D1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are there free and independent media? 4.004 4.004

Freedom of the press is constitutionally guaranteed. Public broadcasting channels are poorly funded and face strong competition from commercial television outlets, which provide a wide range of viewpoints. Internet access is not restricted but most online media have become paid services and only one national news outlet remains totally open.

Journalists are granted a protected status similar to that of judges, lawyers, witnesses, and security personnel, which increases penalties for those who threaten, defame, and constrain them. Still, Portugal remains one of the few countries in Europe where defamation is still a criminal offense, and although prosecutions are uncommon, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has repeatedly ruled against Portuguese authorities for their handling of both civil and criminal defamation cases against journalists. The ECHR ruled in September 2019 that freedom of expression had been violated in a case against a journalist and a doctor who were both convicted of defaming politicians.

According to Reporters Without Borders (RSF), the soccer world remains aggressive towards the media and journalists, threatening reporters who question the practices of major clubs.

In 2019, 90 percent of local radio stations associated with the Portuguese Broadcasting Association (APR) decided not to cover the campaign for legislative elections in October 2019, after being excluded from broadcasting airtime and the distribution of advertising revenues.

D2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private? 4.004 4.004

Portugal is overwhelmingly Roman Catholic, but the constitution guarantees freedom of religion and forbids religious discrimination. The Religious Freedom Act provides benefits for religions that have been established in the country for at least 30 years or recognized internationally for at least 60 years. However, other groups are free to register as religious corporations and receive benefits such as tax-exempt status, or to practice their faith without registering.

D3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination? 4.004 4.004

Academic freedom is respected. Schools and universities operate without undue political or other interference.

D4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution? 4.004 4.004

There are no significant restrictions on private discussion or the expression of personal views, although defamation laws affect ordinary citizens and politicians.

E Associational and Organizational Rights

E1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there freedom of assembly? 4.004 4.004

Freedom of assembly is upheld by the authorities. Protests organized during 2019 addressed problems including climate change, housing prices and evictions, restoration of cuts made in the public sector during the bailout, and fascism.

E2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work? 4.004 4.004

Freedom of association is respected. National and international nongovernmental organizations, including human rights groups, operate in the country without interference.

E3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations? 4.004 4.004

Workers enjoy the right to organize, bargain collectively, and strike, though there are some limits on the right to strike in a wide range of sectors and industries that are deemed essential. The National Union of Dangerous Goods Drivers held protests in April and August of 2019 demanding better conditions, and the government intervened in both strikes. Similarly, in February the government forcibly ended by legislative decree the intermittent strikes that nurses had participated in for months, delaying thousands of medical operations.

F Rule of Law

F1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there an independent judiciary? 4.004 4.004

The judiciary is independent, but staff shortages and inefficiency have contributed to a considerable backlog of pending trials.

The CoE also stated in its June 2019 report, that Portugal’s efforts to fight corruption in respect to judges and prosecutors are unsatisfactory: The nomination of candidates to the Supreme Court continues to rely on panels whose members were mainly non-judges. A new Statute of Magistrates, to rectify this issue, has been approved in parliament but has not entered into force yet. According to the report, there is also a lack of enforceable standards of professional, judicial conduct, a problem that remained unaddressed through 2019.

F2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters? 4.004 4.004

The authorities generally observe legal safeguards against arbitrary arrest and detention, though court backlogs result in lengthy pretrial detention for some defendants. Due process rights are guaranteed during trial.

F3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies? 3.003 4.004

Human rights groups and the CoE have expressed concern over abuse of detainees and excessive use of force by police, particularly against members of racial and ethnic minorities. Overcrowding in prisons remains a problem, as do poor health and safety conditions. In May 2019, eight police officers were found guilty of kidnapping and beating up six youths of African descent in 2015, and nine other officers involved were acquitted. Accusations of torture and racist motivations were rejected by the court.

In January 2019, an altercation between two residents in a predominantly black neighborhood escalated after the police arrived, when officers were recorded on video beating and assaulting uninvolved pedestrians.

F4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population? 3.003 4.004

Equal treatment under the law is guaranteed by the constitution. Various laws prohibit discrimination based on factors including sex, race, disability, gender identity, and sexual orientation. Nevertheless, some problems persist with respect to gender bias and discrimination against minorities, particularly Roma and people of African descent.

A September 2019 study from the European Network Against Racism (ENAR) found “deeply rooted institutional” discrimination in every stage of the judicial process, from reporting through sentencing.

Living conditions in Romany communities are generally poor. According to the most recent (2018) European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) report, Romany children face segregation at school, and 90 percent leave school prematurely. Just over half of Romany men are employed. Although by some measures Portugal is considered a less discriminatory environment for people of African descent than other European Union countries, black residents are also susceptible to disparities in housing, education, and employment.

Although Portugal passed an antidiscrimination law in 2017, prejudice and anti-Roma sentiment are still acted upon. Stores in Porto have decorated the entrances to their premises with frogs to deter Roma from entering, as frogs are a symbol of bad luck to many Roma.

In an effort to improve the country’s overall policing environment, the government launched the manual “Policing Hate Crime Against LGBTI Persons” for police officers, prosecutors, and judges, and approved a National Plan to protect migrants. The detention of young children seeking asylum remains a concern.

G Personal Autonomy and Individual Rights

G1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education? 4.004 4.004

Freedom of movement and associated rights are protected in law and by the constitution, and the government respects these rights in practice.

G2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors? 4.004 4.004

The government does not interfere with the rights to own property, establish private businesses, and engage in commercial activity. Due to a sharp rise in housing prices, a new Basic Housing Law entered into force in October 2019.

G3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance? 4.004 4.004

There are no major restrictions on personal social freedoms. Portugal legalized same-sex marriage in 2010 and extended adoption rights to same-sex couples in 2015. A 2018 law eliminated the need for transgender people to obtain a medical certificate to formally change their gender or first name. Domestic violence remains a problem despite government efforts aimed at prevention, education, and victim protection. The CoE is concerned that the definition of rape is not based solely on the absence of free consent but requires that there be “duress.”

The European Commission has started an infringement procedure against Portugal for not applying rules against the sexual abuse of minors.

G4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation? 3.003 4.004

The authorities generally enforce legal safeguards against exploitative working conditions. However, Portugal remains a destination and transit point for victims of human trafficking, particularly those from Eastern Europe, Asia, and West Africa. Although forced labor is prohibited by law, there have been some reports of the practice, especially in the agriculture, hospitality, and construction sectors, and in domestic service. Immigrant workers are especially vulnerable to economic exploitation.

Since February 2019, new legislation obligates all companies to have a transparent compensation policy, an effort to combat the gender pay gap.

On Portugal

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  • Global Freedom Score

    96 100 free