Politics of Portugal

Politics in Portugal unitary semi-presidential representative democratic republic, whereby the Prime Minister of Portugal is the head of government. Portugal has a multi-party system. The President of Portugal is the executive head of state and has several significant political powers, which he exercises often. Executive power is exercised by the President and the Council of Ministers. Legislative power is vested in both the government and the Assembly of the Republic. The Judiciary of Portugal is independent of the executive and the legislature.

Since 1975, the party system has been dominated by the social democratic Socialist Party and the liberal-conservative Social Democratic Party.

Political background

The national and regional governments are dominated by two political parties, Socialist Party (PS), a social democratic party that resembles British Labour or the German SPD, and the Social Democratic Party (PSD), a liberal-conservative party and member of the European Parliament's European People's Party group, which have similar basic policies in some respects: both are pro-Europe and support the market economy. Other parties with seats in the parliament are the Portuguese Communist Party, the CDS – People's Party, the Left Bloc and the Ecologist Party "The Greens". The Communists and the Greens are in coalition as the Unitary Democratic Coalition.

In the elections of 2011, the Social Democratic Party won enough seats to form a majority government with the People's Party.The coalition, led by Prime Minister by Pedro Passos Coelho, was supported by a majority in the Parliament of 132 MPs. The major opposition party was the Socialist Party (the party of the former Prime Minister José Sócrates, in office 2005-2011) with 74 MPs. Also represented were the Portuguese Communist Party (16 MPs), "The Greens" (2 MPs) and the Left Bloc (8 MPs), all to the left of the governing coalition.

In the election of 2015, which the Social Democratic Party and People's Party contested as a coalition, Portugal Ahead, the government lost its absolute majority. The left-wing parties, the Socialist Party, Portuguese Communist Party, Ecologist Party "The Greens", and Left Bloc, argued that as they were willing to form a coalition which would have a majority in the assembly, they ought to be invited to form the government, while Portugal Ahead, as the largest grouping, argued that they should be invited to form the government. After three weeks of uncertainty, the President designated Passos Coelho as Prime Minister, which was followed by the formation of a minority government. However, the Government Programme was rejected by the Parliament.It was the shortest-lived Portuguese national government since the Carnation Revolution. Since then the left-wing parties, led by the Socialist Party, have formed the government. On 26 November 2015, there was established a Socialist Party (PS) minority government led by Prime Minister António Costa.

In the Portuguese legislative election of 2019 the centre-left Socialist Party (PS) of incumbent Prime Minister Costa obtained the largest share of the vote, and the most seats. On 26 October 2019, there was established a new Socialist Party (PS) minority government led by Prime Minister António Costa.


The São Bento Palace, home to the Portuguese Assembly of the Republic, in Lisbon

The first constitution was created in 1822 (following the Liberal Revolution of 1820),[1] followed by a second in 1826, followed by a third in 1838 (after the Liberal Wars),[2] a fourth in 1911 (following the 5 October 1910 revolution),[2] and a fifth 1933 (after the 28 May 1926 coup d'état).[2]

Portugal's 25 April 1976 constitution reflected the country's 1974–76 move from authoritarian rule to provisional military government to a representative democracy with some initial Communist and left-wing influence. The military coup in 1974, which became known as the Carnation Revolution, was a result of multiple internal and external factors like the colonial wars that ended in removing the dictator, Marcelo Caetano, from power. The prospect of a communist takeover in Portugal generated considerable concern among the country's NATO allies. The revolution also led to the country abruptly abandoning its colonies overseas and to the return of an estimated 600,000 Portuguese citizens from abroad. The 1976 constitution, which defined Portugal as a "Republic... engaged in the formation of a classless society," was revised in 1982, 1989, 1992, 1997, 2001, and 2004.

The 1982 revision of the constitution placed the military under strict civilian control, trimmed the powers of the president, and abolished the Revolutionary Council (a non-elected committee with legislative veto powers). The country joined the European Union in 1986, beginning a path toward greater economic and political integration with its richer neighbors in Europe. The 1989 revision of the constitution eliminated much of the remaining Marxist rhetoric of the original document, abolished the communist-inspired "agrarian reform", and laid the groundwork for further privatization of nationalized firms and the government-owned communications media. The 1992 revision made it compatible with the Maastricht Treaty.

The current Portuguese constitution provides for progressive administrative decentralization and calls for future reorganization on a regional basis. The Azores and Madeira archipelagos have constitutionally mandated autonomous status. A regional autonomy statute promulgated in 1980 established the Government of the Autonomous Region of the Azores; the Government of the Autonomous Region of Madeira operates under a provisional autonomy statute in effect since 1976. Apart from the Azores and Madeira, the country is divided into 18 districts, each headed by a governor appointed by the Minister of Internal Administration. Macau, a former dependency, reverted to Chinese sovereignty in December 1999.

XIII and XIV Constitutional Governments (1995–2002)

The Socialist Party, under the leadership of António Guterres, came to power following the October 1995 legislative elections. The Socialists later won a new mandate by winning exactly half the parliamentary seats in the October 1999 election, and constituting then the XIV Constitutional Government. Socialist Jorge Sampaio won the February 1996 presidential elections with nearly 54% of the vote. Sampaio's election marked the first time since the 1974 revolution that a single party held the prime ministership, the presidency, and a plurality of the municipalities. Local elections were held in December 1997.

Prime Minister Guterres continued the privatization and modernization policies begun by his predecessor, Aníbal Cavaco Silva (in office 1985-1995) of the Social Democratic Party. Guterres was a vigorous proponent of the effort to include Portugal in the first round of countries to collaborate and put into effect the euro in 1999. In international relations, Guterres pursued strong ties with the United States and greater Portuguese integration with the European Union while continuing to raise Portugal's profile through an activist foreign policy. One of his first decisions as Prime Minister was to send 900 troops to participate in the IFOR peacekeeping mission in Bosnia. Portugal later contributed 320 troops to SFOR, the follow-up Bosnia operation. Portugal also contributed aircraft and personnel to NATO's Operation Allied Force in Kosovo.

XV Constitutional Government (2002–2004)

The XV Constitutional Government was led by José Manuel Durão Barroso, leader of the Social Democratic Party in coalition with the People's Party, whose leader, Paulo Portas, became Minister of Defence.

XVI Constitutional Government (2004–2005)

After José Manuel Durão Barroso accepted the invitation to be the next European Commission President, a new government had to be formed. Though opposition parties called for general elections, President Jorge Sampaio named Pedro Santana Lopes, the new Social Democratic Party leader, as Prime Minister, who thus formed a new government, in coalition with the People's Party. However, in December 2004, due to several controversies involving the government, the President dissolved the parliament and called for early elections. Santana Lopes resigned after the announcement of the President's decision.

XVII and XVIII Constitutional Governments (2005–2011)

In the elections on 20 February, the Socialist Party obtained its largest victory ever, achieving an absolute majority for the first time in the party's history. Prime Minister José Sócrates was sworn in by President Jorge Sampaio on 12 March. To many's surprise, Sócrates formed a cabinet made up of roughly half senior members of the Socialist Party and half independents, notably including Diogo Freitas do Amaral, founder of the right wing People's Party, who assumed office as Ministry of Foreign Affairs (he later resigned due to personal issues).

In the elections on 27 September 2009, The Socialist Party, led by incumbent Prime Minister José Sócrates, won the largest number of seats, but didn't repeat the overall majority they gained in 2005. Sócrates was reconducted but lost his majority. The 2010 European debt crisis led Portugal to ask for a bailout from the IMF and the European Union. This situation led to the resignation of José Sócrates as Prime Minister and the President dissolved the parliament and called for early elections.

XIX Constitutional Government (2011–2015)

In the elections held on 5 June 2011, the Social Democratic Party won enough seats to form a majority government with the People's Party. The Government was led by Pedro Passos Coelho. It had 11 ministers and was sworn in on 21 June.

XX Constitutional Government (2015)

The Portuguese legislative election of 2015 was held on 4 October. The results display a relative victory of the right-wing coalition, but they also display a combined victory of the left-wing parties (including the Socialist Party), with a hung parliament (a right-wing single winner and a left-wing majority parliament). After the election The XX Constitutional Government of Portugal had Pedro Passos Coelho (PSD) as the prime minister and lasted from 30 October 2015 to 26 November 2015. However, the Government Programme was rejected by the Parliament. It was the shortest-lived Portuguese national government since the Carnation Revolution.

XXI Constitutitional Government (2015-2019)

The 21st cabinet of the Portuguese government since the establishment of the current constitution. It was established on 26 November 2015 as a Socialist Party (PS) minority government led by Prime Minister António Costa.

XXII Constitutional Government (2019-)

The Portuguese legislative election of 2019 was held on 6 October 2019. The centre-left Socialist Party (PS) of incumbent Prime Minister Costa obtained the largest share of the vote, and the most seats. The XXII Constitutional Government of Portugal is the current cabinet of the Portuguese government. It was established on 26 October 2019 as a Socialist Party (PS) minority government led by Prime Minister António Costa.


Government in Portugal is made up of three branches originally envisioned by enlightenment philosopher Baron de Montesquieu: executive, legislative, and judicial. Each branch is separate and is designed to keep checks and balances on the others.

Executive branch

The President, elected to a 5-year term by direct, universal suffrage, is also commander-in-chief of the armed forces. Presidential powers include appointing the Prime Minister and Council of Ministers, in which the President must be guided by the assembly election results; dismissing the Prime Minister; dissolving the assembly to call early elections; vetoing legislation, which may be overridden by the assembly; and declaring a state of war or siege.

The Council of State, a presidential advisory body, is composed of:[3]

The president, according to the election results, names the party that shall form a government, whose leader is appointed Prime Minister. The Prime Minister names the Council of Ministers, and the ministers name their Secretaries of State. A new government is required to define the broad outline of its policy in a program and present it to the assembly for a mandatory period of debate. Failure of the assembly to reject the program by a majority of deputies confirms the government in office.

Main office holders
Office Name Party Since
President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa Independent 9 March 2016
Prime Minister António Costa Socialist Party 26 November 2015

Legislative branch

The four main organs of the national government are the presidency, the prime minister and Council of Ministers (the government), the Assembly of the Republic (the parliament), and the judiciary. The Assembly of the Republic is a unicameral body composed of up to 230 deputies. Elected by universal suffrage according to a system of proportional representation, deputies serve terms of office of 4 years, unless the president dissolves the assembly and calls for new elections.

Political parties and elections

Summary of the 24 January 2021 Portuguese presidential election results
Candidates Supporting parties First round
Votes %
Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa Social Democratic Party, People's Party 2,531,692 60.66
Ana Gomes People–Animals–Nature, LIVRE 540,823 12.96
André Ventura CHEGA 497,746 11.93
João Ferreira Portuguese Communist Party, Ecologist Party "The Greens" 179,764 4.31
Marisa Matias Left Bloc, Socialist Alternative Movement 165,127 3.96
Tiago Mayan Gonçalves Liberal Initiative 134,991 3.23
Vitorino Silva React, Include, Recycle 123,031 2.95
Total valid 4,173,174 100.00
Blank ballots 47,164 1.11
[lower-alpha 1]Invalid ballots 38,018 0.89
Total 4,258,356
Registered voters/turnout 10,847,43439.26
Source: Comissão Nacional de Eleições
Summary of the 6 October 2019 Assembly of the Republic elections results
Parties Votes % ±pp swing MPs MPs %/
votes %
2015 2019 ± % ±
Socialist 1,903,68736.354.0861082246.969.61.29
Social Democratic 1,454,28327.77[lower-alpha 2]89791034.354.31.24
Left Bloc 498,5499.520.7191908.260.00.87
Unitary Democratic Coalition 332,0186.341.9171255.222.20.82
People's 221,0944.22[lower-alpha 2]185132.175.60.51
People–Animals–Nature 173,9313.321.91431.741.30.52
CHEGA 67,5021.29N/AN/A1N/A0.43N/A0.33
Liberal Initiative 67,4431.29N/AN/A1N/A0.43N/A0.33
LIVRE 56,9401.090.40110.430.40.39
Alliance 40,1750.77N/AN/A0N/A0.00N/A0.0
Portuguese Workers' Communist 36,0060.690.40000.000.00.0
React, Include, Recycle 35,1690.67N/AN/A0N/A0.00N/A0.0
National Renovator 16,9920.320.20000.000.00.0
Earth 12,8880.250.20000.000.00.0
We, the Citizens! 12,3460.240.20000.000.00.0
Democratic Republican 11,6740.220.90000.000.00.0
United Party of Retirees and Pensioners 11,4570.220.10000.000.00.0
Together for the People 10,5520.200.10000.000.00.0
People's Monarchist 8,3890.160.10000.000.00.0
Labour 8,2710.16[lower-alpha 3]0000.000.00.0
Socialist Alternative Movement 3,2430.06[lower-alpha 3]0000.000.00.0
Total valid 4,982,609 95.14 1.1 230 230 0 100.00 0
Blank ballots 131,3022.510.4
Invalid ballots 123,5732.360.7
Total 5,237,484 100.00
Registered voters/turnout 10,777,25848.607.3
Source: Comissão Nacional de Eleições

Judicial branch

The national Supreme Court is the court of last appeal. Military, administrative, and fiscal courts are designated as separate court categories. A thirteen-member Constitutional Court reviews the constitutionality of legislation.

Administrative divisions

18 districts (distritos, singular distrito) and 2 autonomous regions* (regiões autónomas, singular região autónoma): Aveiro, Açores (Azores)*, Beja, Braga, Bragança, Castelo Branco, Coimbra, Évora, Faro, Guarda, Leiria, Lisboa, Madeira*, Portalegre, Porto, Santarém, Setúbal, Viana do Castelo, Vila Real, Viseu

International organization participation


Historical rankings of Prime Ministers

In 2012 and 2014 newspaper i and the polling agency Pitagórica conducted polls asking for the best Portuguese Prime Minister among the seven most recent ones (i.e. in the previous 30 years). The results revealed that the public clearly separated the seven evaluated Prime Ministers between the three best ones (each receiving more than 20% of the votes) and the four worst (each receiving from 4 to 8% of the votes).[4][5] In both polls, António Guterres (1995–2002) ranked as the best Prime Minister. Mário Soares (1976–78 and 1983–85) and Aníbal Cavaco Silva (1985–95) were also among the best Prime Ministers. On the other hand, José Manuel Durão Barroso (2002–04), Pedro Santana Lopes (2004–05), José Sócrates (2005–11) and Pedro Passos Coelho (2011–15, incumbent at the time of the polls) ranked as the worst Prime Ministers. Pedro Santana Lopes was the worst in the 2012 poll[6] while Barroso ranked as the worst in the 2014 one.[5] Together, the three best Prime Ministers ruled Portugal uninterruptedly from 1983 to 2002, while the four worst ruled from 2002 to 2015.

i/Pitagórica (2012)

  1. António Guterres – 27%
  2. Aníbal Cavaco Silva – 24%
  3. Mário Soares – 23%
  4. Pedro Passos Coelho – 8%
  5. José Manuel Durão Barroso – 8%
  6. José Sócrates – 6%
  7. Pedro Santana Lopes – 4%

i/Pitagórica (2014)

The poll was conducted in March 2014 and had 506 pollees.[6]

  1. António Guterres – 24.4%
  2. Mário Soares – 23.9%
  3. Aníbal Cavaco Silva – 23.6%
  4. José Sócrates – 7.7%
  5. Pedro Santana Lopes – 6.9%
  6. Pedro Passos Coelho – 6.8%
  7. José Manuel Durão Barroso – 6.7%

See also


  1. Includes votes for candidate Eduardo Baptista.
  2. The Social Democratic Party (PSD) and the People's Party (CDS–PP) contested the 2015 election in a coalition called Portugal Ahead (PàF) and won a combined 38.6% of the vote and elected 107 MPs to parliament.
  3. The Socialist Alternative Movement (MAS) and the Portuguese Labour Party (PTP) contested the 2015 election in a coalition called AGIR! (Act!) and won a combined 0.4% of the vote.


  1. "The Constitutional Monarchy". Assembly of the Republic of Portugal. Archived from the original on 22 October 2013. Retrieved 12 December 2013.
  2. "The Constitutional Monarchy". Assembly of the Republic of Portugal. Archived from the original on 22 October 2013. Retrieved 12 December 2013.
  3. Constituição da República Portuguesa
  4. "E o prémio de melhor primeiro-ministro português vai para..." [An the award for the best Portuguese Prime Minister goes to...] (in Portuguese). Notícias ao Minuto. 28 November 2012. Retrieved 26 August 2018.
  5. "António Guterres o melhor primeiro-ministro da democracia e Durão Barroso o pior" [Guterres was the best Prime Minister of the democracy and Durão Barroso was the worst] (in Portuguese). i. 10 April 2014. Retrieved 26 August 2018.
  6. "Barómetro Pitagórica Março 2014" (in Portuguese). 1 April 2014. Retrieved 2 February 2020.