Portugal | Freedom House

Freedom in the World



Freedom in the World 2014

2014 Scores



Freedom Rating
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Civil Liberties
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Political Rights
(1 = best, 7 = worst)



Portugal has been gripped by financial woes since the start of the European economic recession in the late 2000s. In 2012, after a year of protests and strikes against budget cuts and austerity measures, a challenge to the 2013 budget was filed with the Constitutional Court. In April 2013, the court ruled that four out of nine austerity measures were unconstitutional.

As unemployment rose as high as 18 percent and the government implemented pay cuts and tax hikes, protests and strikes continued throughout the year. A particularly large protest in October drew tens of thousands of people after the government unveiled its 2014 budget proposal, which included the harshest pay cuts and tax hikes the country has seen in nearly 40 years. In October, the European Union and International Monetary Fund approved steps taken by Portugal after a series of bailout reviews. The bailout was due to expire in mid-2014.

The Social Democratic Party (PPD/PSD) took a major hit in local elections in September 2013, as voters expressed frustration with government austerity measures and the country’s continued grim financial situation. The Socialist Party (PS) won 36.7 percent of the vote while the PPD/PSD took just 18.9 percent. The PS now holds approximately 130 municipalities, compared to just 90 for the PPD/PSD.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 


Political Rights: 39 / 40 [Key]

A. Electoral Process: 12 / 12

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 declare war as the commander-in-chief of the armed forces. 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.

Early legislative elections were held in June 2011 after the PS government’s fourth austerity budget proposal was rejected by all five opposition parties. The PPD/PSD rose to power with 108 seats and 40 percent of the vote, compared to the PS’s 74 seats (29 percent). PPD/PSD leader Pedro Passos Coelho formed a coalition government with the Democratic Social Center/Popular Party (CDS/PP), which won 24 seats. The Unitarian Democratic Coaltion (composed of the Portuguese Communist Party and the Greens) holds 16 seats and the progressive Left Bloc won 8.

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.


B. Political Pluralism and Participation: 16 / 16

Political parties operate freely. The main political parties are the center-left PS, the center-right PPD/PSD, and the Christian-democratic CDS/PP. The 2011 elections saw a change of power from the PS to the PPD/PSD. The autonomous regions of Azores and Madeira—two island groups in the Atlantic—have their own political structures with legislative and executive powers.


C. Functioning of Government: 11 / 12

A 2009 police operation exposed companies engaged in illicitly obtaining industrial waste contracts. More than 30 people were charged with graft, money laundering, and influence peddling, including a number of officials linked to the PS. Their trials, which opened in 2011, continued throughout 2013, though no one had been prosecuted by the end of the year.

In June 2013, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) expressed concern over Portugal’s reluctance to crack down on foreign bribary, particularly in regard to its relationship to its former colonies—Brazil, Angola, and Mozambique. Since joining an anti-bribery convention in 2001, Portugal had uncovered only 15 bribery allegations, none of which resulted in a prosecution. Furthermore, a Portuguese investigation into money laundering allegations involving Angola resulted in a media campaign against Portugal in an Angolan state-owned newspaper, including threats of economic retaliation.

In 2012, Transparency International released a report recommending that Portugal change its process for choosing a prosecutor general to allow for greater autonomy and less government influence. Portugal was ranked 33 out of 177 countries surveyed in Transparency International’s 2013 Corruption Perceptions Index.


Civil Liberties: 58 / 60

D. Freedom of Expression and Belief: 16 / 16

Freedom of the press is constitutionally guaranteed, and laws against insulting the government or armed forces are rarely enforced. In 2012, Portugal’s national news agency, Lusa, went on strike for four days after it was announced that the government planned to cut its budget by more than 30 percent. However, in September 2013, government minister Miguel Poiares Maduro announced that funding for both Lusa and Rádio e Televisão de Portugal (RTP) would be maintained. Poorly funded public broadcasting channels already face serious competition from commercial television outlets. Internet access is not restricted.

In March 2013, the Committee to Protect Journalists expressed concern over Angola’s increased influence over Portuguese media. In particular, powerful Angolans hold shares in the Newshold media group, which controls Sol—Portugal’s third largest weekly—two major magazines, a tabloid, and a business paper. There have also been repercussions for journalists who critique Angola, creating an air of self-censorship. One RTP program was cancelled after an employee linked to the program accused the government of positively portraying the Angolan regime. The dire financial situation in Portugal is exacerbating the situation, as Angolan investments have become increasingly important to the Portuguese economy.

Although Portugal is overwhelmingly Roman Catholic, the constitution guarantees freedom of religion and forbids religious discrimination. The Religious Freedom Act provides benefits for religions that have been established in the country for at least 30 years (or recognized internationally for at least 60 years), including tax exemptions, legal recognition of marriage and other rites, and respect for traditional holidays. Academic freedom is respected.


E. Associational and Organizational Rights: 12 / 12

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. Only 19 percent of the workforce is unionized. Thousands of people in 2013 participated in public protests and strikes amid high unemployment and other economic struggles. A strike paralyzed Lisbon and Porto in June 2013 when the General Confederation of the Portuguese Workers and the General Union of Workers shut down key public services, including transportation. The strike was only the fourth time in 25 years that these unions joined forces to mobilize their over 1 million members. On November 27, the government adopted a 2014 austerity budget despite massive protests the day before during which protestors stormed government buildings. On November 28, the head of Portugal’s Public Safety Police after what was possibly the largest public safety protest in the country’s history in Lisbon over potential cuts in the 2014 budget.

In August 2012 a new Labor Code went into effect including changes to the right of collective bargaining. However, in September 2013 a constitutional court ruled that 3 of the new provisions were unconstitutional.


F. Rule of Law: 15 / 16

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.

A 2012 investigation of Portugal’s prisons and detention centers by the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) found many cases of alleged ill-treatment of prisoners, including physical assaults, failure to give prisoners access to lawyers and inform them of their rights, poor conditions in detention cells, steadily increasing prison populations and overcrowding, lack of programmed activities to reduce extended confinement, long periods of solitary confinement, accommodation of juveniles with adults, and inadequate numbers of staff. A CPT follow-up visit in May 2013 found little improvement.

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 that 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.


G. Personal Autonomy and Individual Rights: 15 / 16

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.


Scoring Key: X / Y (Z)

X = Score Received

Y = Best Possible Score

Z = Change from Previous Year

Full Methodology