Portugal

Free
95
100
PR Political Rights 39 40
CL Civil Liberties 56 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 rival 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 2021

  • A new wave of the COVID-19 pandemic affected Portugal severely at the beginning of the year, leading officials to impose another lockdown, but restrictions were subsequently eased as a well-organized vaccination campaign reduced the severity of the health crisis.
  • President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa was reelected in January, easily defeating six challengers. Due to the pandemic, voter turnout was unusually low.
  • An audit revealed in June that authorities in the capital had for years illegally shared protesters’ personal information with the foreign governments they were demonstrating against.

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 January 2021, President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, supported by two center-right parties, won reelection with 61 percent of the vote. Socialist Party (PS) candidate Ana Gomes placed second with 13 percent, and far-right ultranationalist candidate André Ventura secured 12 percent, with four others capturing the remainder. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, only about 39 percent of eligible voters participated.

António Costa of the PS has served as prime minister since 2015 and was reappointed in 2019, after his party won that year’s parliamentary elections. In November 2021, the parliament rejected the government’s budget bill, prompting the president to schedule general elections for January 2022.

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 2019 legislative elections, the governing PS came in first with 106 seats, up from 86 in the previous parliament. The center-right opposition Social Democratic Party (PSD) placed second with 77 seats. The Left Bloc (BE) took 19 seats, the leftist and green Unitary Democratic Coalition secured 12, the conservative People’s Party won 5, and the People-Animals-Nature (PAN) party took 4. Three new parties—Liberal Initiative, the far-right nationalist Chega, and the leftist and green Livre—entered the parliament with one seat each.

In September 2021, Portugal held municipal council elections, with voter turnout of about 54 percent. The PS won in 147 out of 308 municipalities, but they lost control over the capital, where the PSD entered government after 14 years of PS rule. The PSD took 72 municipalities overall, while the People’s Party led in 34. Chega secured just 4.2 percent of the vote and no municipalities.

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 National Elections Commission oversees the process. An Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) monitoring report issued after the 2021 presidential election called for further improvements to Portugal’s legal framework, including shorter deadlines for reporting on campaign finances and the decriminalization of defamation.

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 ideologies are constitutionally prohibited.

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 record of peaceful and regular power transfers between rival parties since it returned to democracy in the late 1970s. Opposition parties maintain a sizable presence in the parliament and govern important municipalities, including the capital as of 2021.

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, racial, religious, gender, LGBT+, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities? 4.004 4.004

Women and members of ethnic, religious, and other minority groups enjoy full political rights and participate in the political process. Women held 38 percent of the seats in parliament as of 2021, and three of them were of African descent—although these women continued to face racist, xenophobic abuse, including by André Ventura, a lawmaker and founder of the Chega party. During the September 2021 local elections, Beatriz Gomes Dias, a woman of African descent who headed the Left Bloc’s candidate list for the Lisbon city council, faced racist harassment on social media.

The autonomous regions of the 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 and are being duly prosecuted. In April 2021, it was announced that former prime minister José Sócrates would be tried on charges of money laundering and falsifying documents, but would not stand trial for other initial charges related to corruption. He had originally been arrested in 2014 on charges of corruption, tax evasion, and money laundering.

In 2020, the European Commission published a report that highlighted deficiencies in Portugal’s efforts to combat corruption. While several laws to enhance accountability and transparency for elected officials were approved in 2019, enforcement and effectiveness remained unproven, and resources for auditors, police, and prosecutors were inadequate. Whistleblower protections are in place, but controversy surrounded the case of Rui Pinto, a hacker-turned-whistleblower who leaked troves of documents related to the business activities of European soccer clubs. His trial on dozens of charges began in September 2020 and continued in 2021.

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. In 2020, after the government resisted civil society groups’ requests for information about its investment visa program, the courts compelled the release of detailed data. The government published all of its contracts related to the COVID-19 pandemic online, along with an overview of its procurements.

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, although this pluralism is threatened by ownership concentration. Internet access is not restricted. According to a 2021 report by the European University Institute’s Centre for Media Pluralism and Media Freedom, the pandemic has worsened the precarious working conditions of journalists, who also occasionally face intimidation in the course of their reporting. In January 2021, journalists covering the presidential campaign of the Chega party were threatened and insulted by party supporters.

Defamation remains a criminal offense, and although prosecutions are uncommon, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has repeatedly ruled against Portuguese authorities for their handling of both civil and criminal defamation cases against journalists. In July 2021, the ECtHR found that a €145,000 ($170,000) fine imposed on a Portuguese media company for its reporting errors was excessive. The broadcaster had mistakenly linked a politician to a child sex abuse case.

A January 2021 report revealed that in 2018, a prosecutor had ordered the police—without the approval of a court or judge—to follow four journalists in an attempt to discover their sources for reporting on a corruption scandal. The journalists’ bank accounts and telephone messages were also monitored.

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? 3.003 4.004

Freedom of assembly is upheld by the authorities, and demonstrations are common in practice. In July 2021, protesters turned out in Lisbon and Porto to denounce COVID-19 containment measures, including digital vaccine certificates and masking requirements.

In June, municipal authorities in Lisbon apologized for passing information to the Russian government about organizers of a January demonstration outside the Russian embassy in support of Russian opposition figure Aleksey Navalny. A week later, an audit of city government procedures showed that authorities in the capital had engaged in similar behavior for years, sharing personal information, including names and addresses, on the organizers of 182 protests with the relevant foreign embassies since 2012. Of those cases, 52 had occurred since the data transfers became illegal under European Union rules in 2018.

Score Change: The score declined from 4 to 3 due to the revelation of a long-standing practice whereby Lisbon authorities had illegally provided the personal data of protesters to the embassies of governments they had demonstrated against.

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 (NGOs), including human rights groups, generally operate without interference. Civil society organizations whose work is focused on issues like racism or the rights of women and LGBT+ people have encountered harassment and threats from far-right groups in recent years.

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.

A temporary state of emergency imposed in 2020 to curb the spread of COVID-19 included a suspension of the right to strike for essential workers. The number of labor actions rebounded in 2021, however, with strikes to demand better working conditions taking place at airports, in the railway system, and among police officers.

F Rule of Law

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

The judiciary is generally independent, though the Council of Europe (CoE) stated in a 2019 report that Portugal’s efforts to fight corruption among judges and prosecutors were unsatisfactory.

In 2020, the government’s decision not to renew the term of the president of the Court of Auditors drew attention to ambiguities in the law that could allow political factors to influence the appointment process.

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.

Controversy surrounding the government’s July 2020 appointment of José Guerra to the European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO) continued into 2021. Guerra had been supported by Portugal’s High Council of Public Prosecutors, but a European committee of experts preferred another candidate for the post. Critics of the appointment alleged that it was politically motivated, noting that the government had included false information in its submission on Guerra’s qualifications.

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 2020, border police at the Lisbon airport’s detention center used batons to beat a Ukrainian citizen who was awaiting deportation after arriving without a visa; the man then died of his injuries while in custody. In May 2021, three border guards were found guilty of the murder and sentenced to between seven and nine years in prison.

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, problems persist with respect to gender bias—including in employment and compensation—and discrimination against members of minority groups, particularly Roma and people of African descent.

Racism and racist violence have become more prominent issues in the public discourse, due in part to growing support for far-right groups. In June 2021, the White suspect accused in the high-profile killing of a Black man in Lisbon in 2020 was sentenced to 22 years and nine months in prison; the assailant had reportedly used racist insults during the attack. Among other obstacles, Black residents are subject to disparities in housing, education, and employment. A 2019 study from the European Network Against Racism (ENAR) found “deeply rooted institutional” discrimination at every stage of the judicial process, from reporting through sentencing. In January 2021, the commander of a special police unit suspended a superintendent who had denounced racism inside the police force.

Discrimination against Roma remains common and rarely punished. Living conditions in Romany communities are generally poor, Romany children face segregation and poor educational outcomes in schools, and Romany adults experience high rates of unemployment.

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.

In early 2021, the authorities imposed new lockdowns, curfews, and other restrictions on movement to combat a surge in cases of COVID-19. The measures were eased over the course of the year as the rate of vaccinations increased and helped to curb the severity of the public health crisis. A municipality in southern Portugal was accused in January of imposing discriminatory lockdown measures on a Romany neighborhood; after facing public criticism, municipal officials met with civil society groups to discuss the issue and develop more inclusive policies.

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.

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.

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 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, domestic service, and construction sectors. Immigrant workers are especially vulnerable to economic exploitation.

The economic disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic disproportionately affected immigrant workers, and the temporary closure of schools for public health reasons was especially harmful to children in rural areas who lacked internet access.

On Portugal

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  • Global Freedom Score

    95 100 free