Freedom in the World
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Massive protests continued to sweep Portugal in 2012 in response to the country’s ongoing financial crisis and the government’s proposed budget and austerity measures. Meanwhile, a new immigration law more closely aligned with European Union migration policy went into effect in September.
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 formally 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; he was reelected in January 2011. The Socialist Party captured the largest number of seats in the 2009 legislative elections, followed by the Social Democratic Party (PSD).
In March 2011, Jóse Sócrates of the Socialist Party stepped down as prime minister after his government’s fourth austerity budget proposal was rejected by all five opposition parties. Early legislative elections were held in June and saw the victory of the PSD with 39 percent of the vote, compared to the Socialist Party’s 28 percent. PSD leader Pedro Passos Coelho immediately formed a coalition government with the Popular Party.
A series of protests swept the nation in 2012 in response to the financial crisis that has gripped the country for several years. More than 100,000 people took to the streets in Lisbon on September 15, as well as tens of thousands more in more than 40 towns across Portugal, to protest a proposed austerity budget, which the government ultimately rejected. It was the largest protest since 1974, but resulted in only two arrests. Protests took place in Lisbon throughout October in response to the government’s tax hikes proposed in the draft 2013 budget, which was passed on October 31. During a protest on October 15, 10 police officers and one protester were injured after police tried to dispurse crowds using batons. Two of Portugal’s largest trade unions, the General Confederation of Portuguese Workers and the General Workers’ Union, organized a massive strike on November 14 to protest the worsening economy and the recently passed 2013 budget. A challenge to the budget—and specifically, the tax increases, which were the highest in Portugal’s modern history—was pending with the Constitutional Court at year’s end.
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 can serve up to two five-year terms; while the position is largely ceremonial, the president can delay legislation through a veto, dissolve the assembly to trigger early elections, and is the commander-in-chief of the armed forces with the power to declare war. The legislature nominates the prime minister, who is then confirmed by the president. The constitution was amended in 1997 to allow Portuguese citizens living abroad to vote in presidential and legislative elections, as well as national referendums.
The main political parties are the Socialist Party, the PSD, 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 2012. Portuguese police carried out a widespread operation in 2009 to expose companies engaged in illicitly obtaining industrial waste contracts. A number of officials linked to Socialist Prime Minister Jose Sócrates were implicated in the scandal, known as “Hidden Face.” While Sócrates himself was not implicated, the scandal damaged his government’s credibility. More than 30 people were charged with graft, money laundering, and influence peddling. Their trials opened in November 2011 and continued throughout 2012, though no one had been prosecuted by the end of the year. With new evidence against Sócrates in the 2002 Freeport scandal—in which Sócrates and two other plaintifs were charged with illegally accepting bribes for the construction of a shopping mall on protected lands outside Lisbon—prosecutors tried but failed to reopen the case against him in October 2012. In 2012, Transparency International released a report recommending that Portugal change its process of choosing a prosecutor general to allow for greater autonomy and less government influence. Portugal was ranked 33 out of 176 countries surveyed in Transparency International’s 2012 Corruption Perceptions Index.
Freedom of the press is constitutionally guaranteed, and laws against insulting the government or armed forces are rarely enforced. In October 2012, Portugal’s national news agency, Lusa, went on strike for four days, including a news blackout, after it was announced that the government planned to cut its budget by more than 30 percent. Poorly funded public broadcasting channels already face serious competition from commercial television outlets. Internet access in Portugal is 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. However, a 2003 labor law mandated that workers assess a proposed strike’s impact on citizens, and provide minimal services during such an event. Thousands of people in 2012 participated in public protests and strikes amid high unemployment and other economic struggles, including the massive November strike against the government’s 2013 budget. Only 19 percent of the workforce is unionized.
The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, 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 relatively high rates of HIV/AIDS among inmates.
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. According to a 2008 study by the Observatory for Immigration, immigrants pay excessively high taxes, though little revenue is channeled to projects that beneft them directly. In September 2012, a new immigration law went into effect which more closely aligns with EU migration policy, including extending temporary visas and imposing higher penalties for employers who hire staff that are in the country illegally.
Domestic violence against women and children remains a problem, and few domestic violence cases are prosecuted. Portugal is a destination and transit point for trafficked persons, particularly women from Eastern Europe and former Portuguese colonies in South America and Africa. Portugal legalized same-sex marriage in 2010.