Freedom in the World
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The Socialist Party ousted the governing Social Democratic Party in Portugal's February 2005 legislative elections. A strike by public workers in July challenged the new government, which plans to cut public spending to bring the country back in line with European Union (EU) rules. Meanwhile, hundreds of farmers protested in favor of greater government help to deal with severe drought conditions in the country.
Portugal was proclaimed a republic in 1910, after King Manuel II abdicated during a bloodless revolution. Antonio 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 of the constitution brought the military under civilian rule, curbed the president's powers, and abolished the unelected Revolutionary Council. Portugal became a member of the European Economic Community (later the European Union [EU]) in 1986, and in early 2002, the euro replaced Portugal's currency, the escudo. In 1999, Portugal handed over its last overseas territory, Macao, to the Chinese, ending a long history of colonial rule.
In February 2005 elections, the Socialists gained 120 of the 230 seats in parliament, while the governing Social Democrats captured only 72. The Communist Party garnered 14 seats; the Popular Party, 12 seats; and the Left Bloc, 8 seats. The general election, which was called more than a year early, ushered in Portugal's fourth government in three years. Socialist leader and former environment minister Jose Socrates became prime minister, edging out Pedro Santana Lopes, who was in power for only seven months. Lopes had gained the office after his predecessor, Jose Manuel Barroso, left in July 2004 to head the European Commission.
In May, about 30 young people began to give testimony in a high-profile pedophilia case, which had begun in November 2004. The case emerged from a series of allegations in 2003 of child abuse in the long-established, state-run Casa Pia orphanages. The seven people accused of participating in the sex ring include a television presenter, a former top diplomat, and a former director of the Casa Pia children's home network.
The 127 elite Portuguese police officers that were serving under Italian command in Nasiriya, Iraq, came back home in February after a 15-month tour of duty. Barroso, the former prime minister, had supported the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, even hosting the Azores summit that effectively marked the declaration of hostilities. Despite the new Socialist government's opposition to the war, Portugal agreed to help train Iraqi troops.
A July strike by public workers challenged the new government and its plans to reduce public spending to bring the country back in line with EU fiscal rules. The prime minister also plans to raise the value-added tax to cover the deficit. The EU ordered Portugal to cut its budget deficit to keep the country in line with EU regulations, which were eased earlier in the year for special situations like economic stagnation. This represented the second time that the country had been in trouble with the EU on fiscal matters; in 2002, Portugal was the first member country to face sanctions by the EU for violating the rules.
A national referendum to relax the country's strict abortion laws was blocked by the Constitutional Court. According to the BBC, the court argued that the vote could not take place in November as planned by the Socialists because the same referendum had been rejected by the president in the current legislature. Current law allows a woman an abortion only if her life is in danger, or if it is necessary for her mental or physical health, or in cases of rape, incest, or fetal impairment.
Severe drought compelled hundreds of farmers to stage protests demanding greater government help. In addition to dry weather, devastating wildfires plagued Portugal over the summer of 2005, a situation made worse by the delay of new firefighting equipment.
Citizens of Portugal can change their government democratically. The 230 members of the unicameral legislature, the Assembly of the Republic, are elected every four years by popular vote using a system of proportional representation. The president is popularly elected for a five-year term, renewable once. The president receives advice from the Council of State, which includes six senior civilian officers, former presidents elected under the 1976 constitution, five members chosen by the Assembly, and five members selected by the president. While the president holds no executive powers, he can delay legislation with a veto and dissolve the Assembly to call early elections. The prime minister is nominated by the Assembly and the choice is confirmed by the president. The constitution was amended in 1997 to allow immigrants to vote in presidential elections. The Portuguese have the right to organize in different political parties and other political groupings of their choice, except for fascist organizations. The autonomous regions of Azores and Madeira are relatively independent, with their own political and administrative regimes, and their own legislation and executive powers.
Portugal was ranked 26 out of 159 countries surveyed in Transparency International's 2005 Corruption Perceptions Index.
Freedom of the press is guaranteed by the constitution, and laws against insulting the government or the armed forces are rarely enforced. Commercial television has been making gains in recent years, providing serious competition for the public broadcasting channels that lack funds. Internet access is not restricted.
Although the country is overwhelmingly Roman Catholic, the constitution guarantees freedom of religion and forbids religious discrimination. The Religious Freedom Act, which was adopted in 2001, 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 for the Catholic Church, such as tax exemptions, legal recognition of marriage and other rites, chaplain visits to prisons and hospitals, and respect for traditional holidays. Academic freedom is respected.
There is freedom of assembly and association, and citizens can participate in demonstrations and open public discussion. National and international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), including human rights groups, operate in the country without government interference. Workers have the right to organize, bargain collectively, and strike for any reason, including political ones. In July 2005, public workers staged a strike in response to the new government's plans to cut public spending to bring the country back in line with EU rules.
The constitution provides for an independent court system. However, a considerable backlog of pending trials has resulted from general inefficiency and a number of vacancies in the judicial system. Human rights groups have expressed concern about the number of human rights abuses in the country, including unlawful police shootings, deaths in police custody, and poor prison conditions that amount to cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment. A Justice Ministry report released during the year cited a number of problems in the country's prison system, including overcrowding, poor sanitary conditions, and high rates of HIV/AIDS among prisoners. The prison population-as a percentage of the total population-is over the EU average. Citing problems of overcrowding and unsanitary conditions, a 2004 report by the country's Justice Ministry argued that Portuguese prisons are the "worst" in the EU.
The constitution guarantees equal treatment under the law and nondiscrimination. The government has taken a number of steps in the past few years to combat racism, including passing antidiscrimination laws and launching initiatives that seek to promote the integration of immigrants and Roma (Gypsies) into Portuguese society. However, there have been few prosecutions in cases involving racial or religious discrimination or the use of excessive force by the police toward immigrants and Roma.
The country is a destination and transit point for trafficked persons, particularly women from Eastern Europe and former Portuguese colonies in South America and Africa. However, according to the 2005 U.S. State Department's human rights report, Portugal has made progress combating trafficking by offering more services to immigrants and conducting information campaigns. The Casa Pia pedophilia case has also heightened awareness of child sex trafficking in the country. In 2000, a law was introduced that makes domestic violence a public crime and obliges the police to follow through on reports. Abortion is illegal, except under exceptional circumstances, such as when the mother's life is at risk. The Constitutional Court blocked a national referendum to relax the country's strict abortion laws because the same referendum had been rejected by the president in the current legislature. During the elections in February 2005, 19.5 percent of the seats were won by women, about the same as in the previous elections in 2002.