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.
- General elections took place in January, and the governing Socialist Party (PS) won an absolute majority in the parliament. Prime Minister António Costa was confirmed for a new term in March.
- Portugal’s defamation laws remained a concern during the year. The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) ruled in January that a journalist’s freedom of expression had been violated by a 2012 defamation conviction.
- In September, the Supreme Court began hearing the trial of three former judges who were accused of corruption, abuse of power, and other offenses.
|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. PS candidate Ana Gomes placed second with 13 percent, and André Ventura of the far-right Chega party secured 12 percent, with four others capturing the remainder.
António Costa of the PS, who has served as prime minister since 2015, was again confirmed in office in March 2022, after his party won the January parliamentary elections.
|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 January 2022 legislative elections, which were triggered early after lawmakers rejected the government’s budget bill in November 2021, the governing PS reached an absolute majority with 120 seats. The center-right opposition Social Democratic Party (PSD) placed second with 77 seats. Chega took 12 seats, up from the 1 it had in the previous parliament. Liberal Initiative took 8 seats, Left Bloc (BE) took 5 seats, the leftist and green Unitary Democratic Coalition (CDU) won 6, and the People-Animals-Nature (PAN) party and the leftist and green Livre took 1 each.
In the September 2021 municipal council elections, the PS won in 147 out of 308 municipalities, but it 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.
|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 in July 2022 generally praised that year’s general elections, but recommended improvements on the transparency of campaign financing and other issues.
In February, the Constitutional Court voided some 80 percent of the mail-in ballots that were cast in the 2022 elections by Portuguese citizens living elsewhere in Europe, on the grounds that they were not accompanied by the proper identity documents. The elections had to be repeated at 139 voting stations across Europe, but the new balloting did not affect the overall results.
|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.
|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 since 2021.
|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.
|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 36 percent of the seats in parliament as of December 2022. Women of African descent who seek or hold public office have faced racist harassment from far-right politicians and on social media in recent years.
The autonomous regions of the Azores and Madeira—two island groups in the Atlantic—have their own political structures with legislative and executive powers.
|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.
|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 such individuals have been duly prosecuted. In June 2022, former prime minister José Sócrates was ordered to report to the police twice monthly while awaiting trial on charges of money laundering and falsifying documents. He had originally been arrested in 2014.
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. A September 2022 report by the Council of Europe’s Group of States against Corruption (GRECO) concluded that Portugal needs to strengthen its efforts to detect corruption and conflicts of interest, and to monitor and verify high-level officials’ asset declarations. The European Commission’s 2022 report on the rule of law also cited concerns regarding a lack of resources for the prevention, investigation, and prosecution of corruption-related cases. Government statistics showed a significant increase in the backlog of unresolved corruption cases over the past several years.
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 2020 and continued in 2022.
|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.
|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, though this pluralism is threatened by ownership concentration. Internet access is not restricted. Media groups suffered a series of cyberattacks during 2022, but the motives and perpetrators behind the attacks remained unclear.
Journalists occasionally face physical intimidation in the course of their reporting. Defamation is a criminal offense, and although prosecutions are uncommon, the ECtHR has repeatedly ruled against Portuguese authorities for their handling of both civil and criminal defamation cases involving journalists. In January 2022, the European court ruled that prominent journalist Emídio Arnaldo Freitas Rangel’s 2012 defamation conviction—for criticizing associations of judges and prosecutors—had breached his right to freedom of expression.
|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.
|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.
|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 laws against defamation and discriminatory speech affect ordinary citizens, politicians, and other public figures. A judge determined in March 2022 that historian Maria de Fátima Bonifácio would have to stand trial for alleged discrimination due to a 2019 article in which she criticized Romany people. In June, the ECtHR ruled that a local politician’s 2014 conviction for publishing satirical cartoons on his blog had violated his right to freedom of expression.
|Is there freedom of assembly?||4.004 4.004|
Freedom of assembly is upheld by the authorities, and protests are common in practice. In 2022, demonstrations to support Ukraine, oppose COVID-19 measures, and advance women’s rights proceeded without incident.
It was discovered in 2021 that authorities in Lisbon had for years been passing personal information about the organizers of protests against foreign governments to their respective embassies. In January 2022, the National Data Protection Commission identified 225 such infractions between 2018 and 2021 and fined Lisbon’s municipal government €1.25 million ($1.3 million). The new mayor elected in late 2021 denounced the former government’s practices.
Score Change: The score improved from 3 to 4 because Lisbon’s municipal government no longer shared protesters’ personal information with foreign governments and was punished for its past abuses.
|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.
|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. In 2022, union members mounted strikes to demand better working conditions at airports and in the railway system.
|Is there an independent judiciary?||4.004 4.004|
The judiciary is generally independent, though GRECO and the European Commission in their 2022 reports called for more effective efforts to combat corruption and improve efficiency in the justice system. A series of scandals in the judiciary have led to prosecutions in recent years. In September 2022, for example, the Supreme Court began hearing the trial of three former judges who were accused of corruption and abuse of power, among other charges.
|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 2020 appointment of José Guerra to the European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO) continued into 2022. Guerra had been supported by Portugal’s High Council of Public Prosecutors, but a European committee of experts preferred another candidate, Ana Carla Almeida, 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. The European Union’s General Court in Luxembourg in 2021 rejected a request submitted by Almeida to annul Guerra’s appointment. Almeida appealed the decision, but the court dismissed the appeal in June 2022.
|Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies?||3.003 4.004|
While the population is generally free from serious threats to physical security, human rights groups and the Council of Europe have expressed concern over abuse of detainees and excessive use of force by police, particularly against members of racial and ethnic minority groups. Overcrowding in prisons remains a problem, as do poor health and safety conditions. SOS Racismo Portugal, an NGO, issued a statement in March 2022 to denounce the deaths of three inmates under unclear circumstances since September 2021. Separately, in January 2022, five military police officers were suspended for the alleged torture of migrant workers.
|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. 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.
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.
|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 generally respects these rights in practice. In 2022, authorities eased and finally lifted restrictions on entering the country that had been imposed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Separately, however, the country’s ombudsperson reported lengthy delays in the processing of residency permits for immigrants and foreign citizens.
|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.
|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. Same-sex marriage was legalized in 2010, and same-sex couples have had adoption rights since 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.
|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.
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Global Freedom Score96 100 free