Portugal | Freedom House

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Freedom in the World 2009

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Corruption levels in Portugal received attention in 2008 as reports emerged concerning foreign bribery, public ambivalence toward corruption, and ongoing investigations into the athletic industry. Labor unions protested for months against a labor law that passed in June that will make it easier for employers to hire and fire workers.

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 control, curbed the president’s powers, and abolished the unelected Revolutionary Council. Portugal became a member of the European Economic Community (later the European Union, or EU) in 1986, and in early 2002, the EU’s euro replaced Portugal’s currency, the escudo. In 1999, Portugal handed over its last colonial territory, Macao, to the People’s Republic of China.

In February 2005 elections, the Socialist Party took 120 of the 230 seats in parliament, while the governing Social Democrats captured only 72. The elections, which had been 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, replacing Pedro Santana Lopes, who was in power for only seven months. Anibal Cavaco Silva, a center-right candidate who had served as prime minister from 1985 to 1995, won the 2006 presidential election, marking the first time in Portugal’s recent history that the president and prime minister hailed from opposite sides of the political spectrum.

Portugal held the rotating EU presidency beginning in July 2007, and many countries looked to Portugal to push for uniform immigration laws for the EU member states, which were not drafted by year’s end.Portugal also oversaw the drafting of a new treaty, known as the Treaty of Lisbon, which replaced the proposed EU constitution that had been rejected in 2005; most changes to the treaty were symbolic, however.

Following months of protests by labor organizations, the government passed a new labor law in June 2008 that affords employers greater flexibility in hiring and firing workers. The law was passed as an attempt to bolster Portugal’s struggling economy.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 

Portugal is an electoral democracy. The 230 members of the unicameral legislature, the Assembly of the Republic, are elected every four years using a system of proportional representation. The president, elected for up to two five-year terms, receives advice from the Council of State, which includes six senior civilian officials, 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 resident noncitizens to vote in presidential elections.

The Portuguese have the right to organize and join political parties and other political groupings of their choice, except for fascistorganizations. The autonomous regions of Azores and Madeira—two island groups in the Atlantic—have their own political structures with legislative and executive powers.

Portugal was ranked 32 out of 180 countries surveyed in Transparency International’s 2008 Corruption Perceptions Index. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development released a report in April 2007 concluding that foreignbribery in the public and private sectors warrants greater attention by Portuguese authorities. The report led to the arrests of government officials on corruption charges. In October, a Portuguese study found that the majority of the population accepts low-level corruption, indicating that corruption is not only a legal but also a social problem in the country. Corruption in the sports industry has also been cited as a problem particularly in soccer where referees try to influence games for monetary payoffs. In response to the recent corruption cases, Lisbon’s Municipal Assembly in July approved a committee to combat corruption.

Freedom of the press is guaranteed by the constitution, and laws against insulting the government or the armed forces are rarely enforced. The inadequately funded public broadcasting channels now face serious competition from commercial television outlets. In September 2007, the parliament overrode a presidential veto to enact a law known as the Journalist Statute, which would require journalists to hand over confidential information and disclose sources in criminal cases. The law also allows employers to use or alter material provided by staff journalists in any manner for 30 days after initial publication, without providing additional compensation. In July 2008, the government issued an unprecedented order for Google to shut down a blog for criticizing the mayor of Póvoa de Varzim. After the court ordered the blog shut down, its author started a new one days later where he published the court’s ruling and new material critical of the mayor.Internet access in Portugal is not normally 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, though the school system was shaken in March 2008 when thousands of teachers demonstrated against proposals for education reforms obliging teachers to work longer hours and to undergo evaluations to assess promotion eligibility.

There is freedom of assembly and association, and citizens can participate in demonstrations and open public discussion. National and international nongovernmental organizations, 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. Despite months of protest from labor organizations, the government passed a labor law in June 2008 that makes it easier for employers to hire and fire employees. Portugal’s two largest trade unions, the General Confederation of Portuguese Workers(CGTP)and the General Workers Union (UGT),organized months of protests, the largest of which took place in Lisbon in June and drew approximately 200,000 workers. In July, an agreement was reached between the government and the UGT, ending the strikes. The agreement included modest adjustments such as greater strengths for collective bargaining and more flexibility in short-term contracts in the agricultural sector. The agreement was not signed by the CGTP.

The constitution provides for an independent court system. However, staff shortages and inefficiency have contributed to a considerable backlog of pending trials. Human rights groups have expressed concern about unlawful police shootings, deaths in police custody, and poor prison conditions. A Justice Ministry report released in 2005 cited a number of problems in the country’s prison system, including overcrowding, poor sanitary conditions, and high rates of HIV/AIDS among inmates. The prison population—as a percentage of the total population—is larger than the EU average.

The constitution guarantees equal treatment under the law and nondiscrimination. The government has taken a number of steps to combat racism, including passing antidiscrimination laws and launching initiatives to promote the integration of immigrants and Roma (Gypsies). Lawmakers passed an immigration law in May 2007 that facilitates family reunification and legalization for immigrants in specific circumstances, such as those who applied under “immigration amnesty.” In May 2008, a study by the Observatory for Immigration revealed that immigrants pay discriminatorily high taxes, little of which is channeled to projects directly benefiting foreign citizens. In October, immigrants protested in Lisbon against racist government policies and a xenophobic campaign by the far-right National Renewal Party. 

In parliamentary the 2005 parliamentary elections, 19.5 percent of the seats were won by women, about the same as in the previous elections in 2002. In July 2008, an EU report criticized Portugal as one of nine EU member states with no government body to protect people based on sexual orientation. In October, a report from the CGTP revealed that women earn four times less than men. Domestic violence against women remains a problem, and few cases are brought to trial; over 7,000 cases were reported in the first half of 2008. 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. Approximately 5,000 Brazilian women are trafficked into Portugal for sexual exploitation each year.