Portugal | Freedom House

Freedom in the World



Freedom in the World 2002

2002 Scores



Freedom Rating
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Civil Liberties
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Political Rights
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Prime Minister Antonio Guterres resigned at the end of 2001 after his ruling Socialist Party suffered significant losses in municipal elections. An economic slowdown also reduced popular support of Guterres. The death of 70 people in a bridge collapse revealed serious shortcoming in Portugal's public works system, further imperiling Gueterres's political legitimacy. While Portugal prepared to adopt the Euro as its new currency, economic forecasts show Portugal lagging far behind European Union (EU) averages.

Formerly a great maritime and colonial empire, Portugal ended its monarchy in a bloodless revolution in 1910. The republic, plagued by chronic instability and violence, ended in a military revolt in 1926. A fascist dictatorship under Antonio Salazar lasted from 1932 to 1968. In 1968, the dying Salazar was replaced by his lieutenant, Marcello Caetano. During what is now termed the "Marcello spring," repression and censorship were relaxed somewhat and a liberal wing developed inside the one-party national assembly. In 1974, Caetano was overthrown in a bloodless coup by the Armed Forces Movement, which opposed the ongoing colonial wars in Mozambique and Angola. A transition to democracy then began with the election of a constitutional assembly that adopted a democratic constitution in 1976. The constitution was revised in 1982 to bring the military under civilian control, curb the president's powers, and abolish an unelected "Revolutionary Council." In 1989, a second revision of the constitution provided for further privatization of nationalized industries and state-owned media.

The election of the Socialist Party's Jorge Sampaio as president in 1996 marked the end of a conservative era in which Portugal benefited economically, but failed to satisfy its voters' eagerness for social change. While both President Sampaio and Prime Minister Guterres have vowed to continue economic reforms, issues such as education, health, housing, and the environment have assumed greater importance in the minds of constituents. In January 2001 President Sampaio was reelected to a second fiveyear term.

Prime Minister Guterres has faced intense criticism over his perceived lack of movement on social security, educational, judicial, and public administration reforms. In July, polls showed his ruling Socialist Party trailing the opposition Social Democrats. Economists predict it will take Portugal 20 years to close the gap between its economic performance level and that of the EU's average. Wages, pensions, and literacy levels remain among the lowest in the EU. Fifteen percent of GDP is spent for 700,000 civil servants, the highest rate in the EU. Portugal's bloated bureaucracy is said to breed inefficiencies in the judicial, health, and educational systems. Improved economic performance over the last five years has resulted in higher labor costs, which in turn has produced lower productivity. Exports have slowed as a result.

In March, seventy people were killed when a bus plunged into the Douro River after a bridge collapsed. Local authorities had previously issued a warning that the bridge was structurally unsound and in need of replacement. The government accepted responsibility for the disaster, forcing the resignation of Public Works Minister Jorge Coelho. The incident sharply underscored the serious shortcomings of Portugal's domestic infrastructure and served only to punctuate the loss of public confidence in the government.

In municipal elections in December, the opposition Social Democrats won sweeping victories in most of Portugal biggest cities, including the capital, Lisbon. Prime Minister Guterres resigned within days of the elections. Analysts saw the defeat of Guterres's Socialist Party as a direct result of Portugal's worsening economy. General elections are scheduled for 2003.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 

Portuguese can change their government democratically. In direct, competitive elections, voters, including a large number of Portuguese living abroad, select both the president and members of parliament. The president, who also commands the country's armed forces, is elected to a five-year term. The president receives advice from the Council of State, which includes six senior civilian officials, former presidents, five members chosen by the legislature, and five chosen by the president. While the president holds no executive powers, he can delay legislation with a veto or insist on a two-thirds majority to approve some laws. The country's unicameral legislature includes up to 235 deputies. With the exception of fascist organizations, political association is unrestricted. Members of small, extreme-right groups, however, have run candidates for public office without interference. In 1997, the constitution was amended to allow immigrants to vote in presidential elections.

Portugal introduced what was considered the most liberal immigration legislation in the EU in August 2001. Workers who entered the country illegally or on tourist visas are now able to legalize their status. A shortage of 22,000 laborers contributed to the legislation. Workers can stay in Portugal indefinitely by legalizing their status and obtaining either permanent residency or citizenship. They can then move freely to other EU countries. There are an estimated 200,000 foreigners in the country, representing 1.8 percent of the population. Anti-immigrant violence appears rare.

Portuguese courts are autonomous and operate only under the restraints of established law and the constitution. They include a constitutional court, a supreme court of justice, and judicial courts of the first and second instance. Separate administrative courts address administrative and tax disputes. They are generally noted for their adherence to traditional principles of independent jurisprudence, but inefficient bureaucratic organization has created an enormous backlog of cases in the system.

Freedoms of speech and assembly are respected with few exceptions. Although the law forbids insults directed at the government or the armed forces and statements intended to undermine the rule of law, the state has never prosecuted cases under this provision. Human rights organizations have repeatedly criticized Portugal for the occasional beating of prisoners and other detainees. In general, prison conditions are poor.

The print media, which are owned by political parties and private publishers, are free and competitive. Until 1990, all television and radio media, with the exception of the Roman Catholic radio station, were state owned. Although television broadcasting is dominated by the state-owned Radioteleivisao Portuguesa, two independent stations have operated in recent years.

Workers have the right to strike and are represented by competing Communist and non-Communist organizations. In recent years, the two principal labor federations, the General Union of Workers and the General Confederation of Portuguese Workers Intersindical, have charged "clandestine" companies with exploiting child labor in the impoverished north.

The status of women has improved with economic modernization. Women account for two-thirds of university graduates. More than 60 percent of women are employed, accounting for 40 percent of Portugal's doctors, judges, and lawyers. Despite these gains, the average pay for women remains 22 percent lower than for men, according to the labor ministry. Women also remain underrepresented in politics and the executive ranks of business. A 1997 constitutional amendment promoting equality in politics has yet to be translated into legislation that would establish minimum quotas. Portugal's constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the government respects this right in practice.