Freedom in the World
Freedom Rating (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Civil Liberties (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Political Rights (1 = best, 7 = worst)
A series of protests swept the nation in 2010 after the government announced a new austerity budget. Despite significant public opposition, the budget—which will raise taxes, cut wages for civil servants, and reduce spending on social security and healthcare—was passed in November. In May, Portugal became the sixth European nation to legalize same-sex marriage.
Portugal was proclaimed a republic in 1910 after King Manuel II abdicated during a bloodless revolution. António 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 to 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 adopted the euro currency in 2002. The country handed over its last colonial territory, Macao, to the People’s Republic of China in 1999.
Aníbal Cavaco Silva, a center-right candidate who had served as prime minister from 1985 to 1995, won the 2006 presidential election. For the first time in Portugal’s recent history, the president and prime minister hailed from opposite sides of the political spectrum.
While holding the rotating EU presidency during the second half of 2007, Portugal oversaw the drafting of the Lisbon Treaty, which replaced the proposed EU constitution that had been rejected in 2005. Ratification of the treaty by the 27-country bloc was completed in November 2009.
In the September 2009 legislative elections, Prime Minister José Sócrates’s governing Socialist Party (PS) won a narrow victory with 38 percent of the vote. The centre-right Social Democratic Party (PSD) captured 30 percent, followed by the Democraticand Social Centre/People's Party with 11 percent. After talks over building a coalition collapsed, the Socialists formed a minority government in October.
A series of protests swept the nation in 2010 after the government announced a new austerity budget in March. Nearly 300,000 protestors gathered in Lisbon in June to demonstrate against the impending changes, which included tax increases, wage cuts for civil servants, and a reduction in spending on healthcare and social security. In October, two of Portugal’s largest trade unions, the General Confederation of Portuguese Workers (CGTP) and the General Workers’ Union (UGT), joined forces to organize a strike for the first time since 1988. Another massive rally took place on November 24 which caused the closure of schools and disruption of public transportation. Despite significant public outcry, the budget passed on November 26, with the government refusing to alter its plan as of year’s end.
Separately, large-scale protests broke out at the end of November just as Lisbon was scheduled to host the 22nd NATO summit. The government reinstated police patrols along the border with Spain as a security measure before the summit opened. By November 19, patrols had blocked over 100 protestors from entering the country. Approximately 40 protestors were detained on November 20 for blocking a roadway while protesting the summit.
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, holds no executive powers, though he can delay legislation through 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 main political parties are the Socialist Party, the Social Democratic Party, and the Social Centre/People’s Party. The autonomous regions of Azores and Madeira—two island groups in the Atlantic—have their own political structures with legislative and executive powers.
Portugal continued to struggle with corruption issues throughout 2010. In 2009, Prime Minister José Sócrates was accused of granting Freeport, a British developing company, permission in 2002 to build a shopping mall on protected land outside of Lisbon in exchange for bribes during his tenure as environment minister; he was cleared on any wrongdoing in 2010. Separately, Portuguese police had carried out a widespread operation in November 2009 to expose companies engaged in illicitly obtaining industrial waste contracts. Five state-run companies were identified in February 2010 as suspects in the scheme, referred to as “Hidden Face.” Over 30 people were implicated though trials were still pending by year’s end. Transparency International (TI) launched a contact group in Portugal in September 2010 to raise awareness and evaluate the country’s anticorruption efforts, among other priorities. Portugal was ranked 32 out of 178 countries surveyed in TI’s 2010 Corruption Perceptions Index.
Freedom of the press is constitutionally guaranteed, and laws against insulting the government or armed forces are rarely enforced. The poorly funded public broadcasting channels face serious competition from commercial television outlets. In February 2010, an executive at Portugal Telecom was forced to resign after being implicated in an alleged government scheme to gain control over the privately-owned television company TVI in 2009. The plot would purportedly have allowed Sócrates to acquire media outlets deemed antipathetic to the Socialist government. In August 2010, the Lisbon-based weekly paper Sol was fined 1.5 million euros for defying a court injunction not to publish part of a phone conversation obtained through police surveillance regarding the TVI acquisition. Sol’s editor and two journalists were fined over 50,000 euros each for their involvement in covering the story. Internet access in Portugal is generally not restricted.
Although the country is overwhelmingly Roman Catholic, the constitution guarantees freedom of religion and forbids religious discrimination. The Religious Freedom Act 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 only for the Catholic Church, such as tax exemptions, legal recognition of marriage and other rites, and respect for traditional holidays. Academic freedom is respected.
Freedoms of assembly and association are honored, and national and international nongovernmental organizations, including human rights groups, operate in the country without interference. Workers enjoy the right to organize, bargain collectively, and strike for any reason, including a political motive. Despite months of protest by labor organizations, a 2008 labor law eased employer regulations concerning the hiring and dismissal of employees. Throughout the latter half of 2010, unions organized large-scale strikes against the government’s new austerity budget. Only 35 percent of the workforce is unionized.
The constitution provides for an independent court system, though staff shortages and inefficiency have contributed to a considerable backlog of pending trials. Human rights groups have expressed concern over unlawful police shootings and deaths in custody. Criticism also continues over poor prison conditions, including overcrowding, poor sanitary conditions, mistreatment of prisoners by police and prison guards, and high rates of HIV/AIDS among inmates. Portugal’s prison population—as a percentage of the total population—is greater than the EU average.
The constitution guarantees equal treatment under the law. 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. A 2007 immigration law facilitates family reunification and legalization for immigrants in specific circumstances, such as those who apply under “immigration amnesty.” According to a 2008 study by the Observatory for Immigration, immigrants pay discriminatorily high taxes, though little revenue is channeled to projects directly benefiting them.
Domestic violence against women and children remains a problem, and few cases are brought to trial; over 15,000 cases were reported in 2009.A 2008 report from the General Confederation of Portuguese Workersrevealed that women earn four times less than men. Portugal is a destination and transit point for trafficked persons, particularly women from Eastern Europe and former Portuguese colonies in South America and Africa. In May 2010, Portugal became the sixth European nation to legalize same-sex marriage.