Category Archives: Portugal


Portugal – Guest post by Paulo José Canelas Rapaz

If this post had been written a few weeks ago, the tone might have been very different. At that time, it would probably have referred the lack of “good news” for the center-right government; the turmoil inside the governmental coalition between the Social-Democratic Party (Partido Social Democrata, PSD, center-right) and the junior partner, the Social and Democratic Center/Popular Party (Centro Democratrico e Social/Partido Popular, CDS/PP, conservative); and the desire of the opposition Socialist Party (Partido Socialista, PS, center-left) for an early general election.

Recently, though, the government has received some “good news”: the 2012 budgetary goals were met, even though one-shot measures helped; a sale of State bonds was very successful; the balance of trade was in surplus, even though this was due more to the fall of imports than to the success of exports; and the new European Union budget proposal mostly spared Portugal from cuts. What is more, the Socialist Party has experienced some internal difficulties: its current leadership had to counter a “coup” from members of the former leadership, who blame the present general secretariat for its weak opposition to the government’s measures and for the way it has distanced itself from the last Socialist administration (2005-2011) and its Prime Minister, José Sócrates.

You might say that these unforeseeable political events mirror the economic, financial and social difficulties that Portugal’s faces. Nevertheless, they run the risk that any post on the Portuguese political arena may soon be out of date. Therefore, the question arises: what can be said that might last?

To answer such a question, the best way is to go back to the event that established the current political configuration: the 2011 early general election. The election was called by the President, Aníbal Cavaco Silva, after Prime Minister Sócrates quit. The Socialists lost and a new center-right coalition government was formed, led by Pedro Passos Coelho from the Social-Democratic Party. Since then, Portugal has been under the scrutiny of the now infamous troika (the European Central Bank, the European Commission and the International Monetary Fund). The agreement with the troika was signed by both the government parties (PSD+CDS/PP) and the opposition socialists. In this context, what can we say about the Portuguese government and its coalition majority, the opposition and the Head of State?

The government and the majority have had to battle very adverse conditions. The budget deficit and the level of Portuguese debt are not yet sustainable; the positive results of government decisions are limited, and the margins for action are small and getting smaller still. There have already been tax hikes, commodity bill increases, pension cuts, civil service salary cuts, social safety net reductions, and privatizations. Over and above cuts and hikes, State and structural economic reforms are either still on the “to do list” or have produced few results. At the same time, growth is absent and unemployment is reaching historical heights. Ever growing parts of the population are finding it difficult to manage daily life. It is said that in order to avoid international and market criticism and sanctions and to avoid comparison with the Greek case, the government has painted itself into a corner with public policies that cripple the Portuguese economic future and put in danger the country’s social fabric. From a more political perspective, it is said that the Ministry of Finance and its austerity measures have hijacked the government, which is criticized by the coalition junior partner, the CDS/PP. It is said that the government and its leader, Pedro Passos Coelho, are unable to go beyond a day-by-day management and create the conditions for growth policies and critical reforms.

The Socialist Party could have profited from this situation and the lack of popularity for the government majority, but it has not. First, it is held responsible for allowing the troika to enter the country, and for its inability to distance itself from the government of José Sócrates and its ignominious end. Furthermore, it should not be forgotten that the Socialist Party also signed the agreement with the international institutions that are today constraining Portugal’s sovereignty. In other words, the PS is in an uncomfortable situation: it criticizes the choices the government makes, but is still committed to meeting the international community’s demands; it does not say clearly what it would have done differently since 2011 and it does not have a different general plan for the future. At the same time, the party’s internal situation is deteriorating with the current leadership unable to establish a balance sheet of the former leadership and the last PS government. This has generated a growing conflict within the PS between the party’s factions. To put it another way, the Socialist Party has not been able to capitalize on popular discontent and therefore is not a credible alternative to the current government.

Re-elected a few months before the last general election, the President is not in an easier situation either. His criticism of José Sócrates’ government was one of the reasons for its fall. Since the PSD – his former party – and the CDS/PP have been in power, he has made several appeals for a fairer distribution of “sacrifices”, for more genuine care to be shown to the most fragile part of the population, and for a deeper reflection and action in favor of economic growth and structural reforms. His appeals have been growing more apparent, and his criticism of the current government has become less and less veiled. But President Cavaco Silva made a mistake when he said that he was finding it difficult to make ends meet personally and this has taken a big toll on his popularity and credibility. Furthermore, his defense of the troika agreement does not give him much room for manoeuvre. To illustrate this point, he refused to veto or to postpone the promulgation of the 2013 austerity budget by sending it for judicial review; instead, he choose to promulgate it and only then to send it to the Constitutional Tribunal. That said, elements of the political scene have variously asked the President to call an early general election, to nominate a broader-based government with members of the three parties that have signed the troika agreement, and to create a new “à la Monti” executive. In other words, even though he is weakened, the President is still seen as an actor of last resort in terms of bringing about a solution to the country’s economic, social and political problems.

In order to conclude this piece, one can say that Portugal’s immediate prospects look bleak. For now, the far left parties – the Left Block (Bloco de Esquerda, Trotskyist) and the Portuguese Communist Party (Partido Comunista Português) – and the trade unions have managed to come together and handle the social and political discontent, but they are not able to build a credible alternative to the normal governing parties. With parliamentary and presidential elections not scheduled until 2015 and 2016 respectively, the growing discontent of increasingly large parts of the Portuguese population puts the political and social institutions under great stress: that this situation might have violent even dangerous outcomes for Portugal’s domestic stability cannot be excluded.

At the end of this year, there will be local elections. A large defeat for the parties in Government is anticipated and, in particular, for the senior coalition partner, the PSD. The large Sintra and Oporto municipalities will certainly be lost; the Socialist Party will maintain its majority in Lisbon. Even though the consequences of these elections at a national level are unpredictable, it is hoped that they will clarify the political arena and offer a clearer set of potential governance solutions.

I would like to thank Professor Elgie for giving me the opportunity to write this post.

Paulo José Canelas Rapaz (

Dr Canelas Rapaz has just completed his doctoral dissertation on the Portuguese presidency at l’Université Panthéon-Assas-Paris II

Portugal – Update on presidential vetoes

In a previous post, I reported figures for presidential vetoes during the first term of the current incumbent, Aníbal Cavaco Silva. Here is more information on the distribution of the vetoes and an update.

According to the constitution, the president has the power to veto parliamentary bills and government bills.

Art. 136.1 of the Constitution states: “Within twenty days of the receipt of any decree of the Assembly of the Republic for enactment as a law, or of the publication of a Constitutional Court ruling that does not declare any of the decree’s provisions unconstitutional, the President of the Republic shall either enact the decree or exercise the right of veto. In the latter case he shall send a message setting out the grounds therefore and requesting that the statute be reconsidered.”

Similarly, Art. 136.4 also states: “Within forty days of the receipt of any Government decree for enactment, or of the publication of a Constitutional Court ruling that does not declare any of the decree’s provisions unconstitutional, the President of the Republic shall either enact the decree or exercise his right of veto. In the latter case he shall inform the Government in writing of the reasons for doing so.”

From March 2006 until March 2011, the president’s website reports that Cavaco Silva vetoed 14 parliamentary bills (decrees of the Assembly of the Republic for enactment as a law) and 1 government bill. During his second term, the website suggests that he has vetoed 3 parliamentary bills, one in May 2011, one in July 2012 and one in August 2012. It also suggests that so far he has not vetoed any government bills in his second term.

Now, the period from March 2006 – June 2011 was a period of cohabitation. So, during the period of cohabitation he vetoed 15 parliamentary bills and 1 government bill in total. Since June 2011 and the period of unified government he has vetoed two parliamentary bills.

This leaves us with a slight puzzle. Even though, as we would expect, during cohabitation President Cavaco Silva was quite an active vetoer, why, during the current period of unified government, is the president vetoing any legislation at all?

In July 2012 President Cavaco Silva vetoed a bill reorganising the Lisbon municipal council. Público reports that the bill was co-sponsored by the government PSD party and the opposition PS. Having passed the bill, the parties wanted to amend it and this proved impossible. So, while the president could have promulgated the bill, he was not acting against the government.

In August 2012 he vetoed a bill providing rules about the use of liquid gas as car fuel, citing  a procedural reason. Again, he was making it clear that he was not against the bill as a whole, but that there were issues with its adoption. According to TSF, this bill was co-sponsored by the opposition PS and the CDS-PP. This latter party is in coalition with the PSD. I have no idea whether the president’s veto had a political motive or whether it was merely technical.

Portugal – Presidential vetoes 2006-2011

It must be lusophone week at the Semi-presidential One. Anyway, this post does not reflect up-to-date news, but it does follow on from the series of posts about presidential vetoes.

I came across the following figures for President Cavaco Silva’s first term in office. They cover the period March 2006-March 2011. (The figures are in Portuguese here and a very similar version is in English here).

They show that the president used his veto power 15 times during this period, but only one of which related to a government bill. The others related to bills proposed by deputies. The president also has the power to request the Constitutional Court to undertake a prior review of the constitutionality of laws and international agreements. President Cavaco Silva used this power 10 times, all of which related to bills proposed by deputies.

These figures are interesting because the whole of President Cavaco Silva’s first term was a period of cohabitation. Moreover, it was a very difficult period economically. However, this context did not lead to intra-executive conflict in terms of vetoes at least.

Portugal – Regional election Madeira

In Portugal yesterday the election was held for the Legislative Assembly of the Autonomous Region of Madeira. The previous election was in 2007.

The conservative PPD/PSD party maintained its absolute majority, but its vote declined. The big mover was the Christian Democrat/conservative CDS-PP. The Socialists lost votes.

Here is the result with the 2007 figures in brackets.

Social Democratic Party (PPD/PSD) – 48.6% (64.2), 25 seats (-8)
Democratic and Social Centre – People’s Party (CDS-PP) – 17.6% (5.4), 9 seats (+7)
Socialists – 11.5% (15.4), 6 seats (-1)
Labour party – 6.9%, 3 seats (+3)
Communists/Greens 3.8% (5.4), 1 seat (-1)
New Democracy – 3.3% (2.1), 1 seat
Animals and Nature – 2.1%, 1 seat (+1)
Earth Party – 1.9%, 1 seat
Left Bloc – 1.7% (3.0), 0 seats (-1)

Portugal – New government

The recent election in Portugal has led to a change of government. The new prime minister is Pedro Passos Coelho from the PPD/PSD (Social Democratic Party – conservative).

The so-called 19th Constitutional Government is a two-party majority coalition between the PPD/PSD and the CDS-PP (Democratic and Social Centre – People’s Party – centre-right). Details of the new ministers are available in Portuguese here.

There is a nice report on the election by Pedro Magalhães at The Monkey Cage.

Portugal – Legislative election

The snap legislative election in Portugal was held on Sunday. A screenshot with the results from the Electoral Commission website is below. A comparison with the 2009 results is available here.

PPD/PSD (Social Democratic Party – conservative)
PS (Socialist Party)
CDS-PP (Democratic and Social Centre – People’s Party – centre-right)
PCP-PEV (Communist Party/The Greens)
BE (Left Bloc, extreme left)

Unsurprisingly, given the economic situation, the incumbent Socialist Party has been roundly defeated. The right-wing Social Democratic Party is the big winner and is likely to form a majority coalition with the Democratic and Social Centre.

See previous post for background on the election.

Portugal – Government resigns

The Socialist government in Portugal has resigned.

Yesterday, Prime Minister José Sócrates presented the government’s plan to manage Portugal’s banking and debt crisis to parliament. Five motions against the so-called Programa de Estabilidade e Crescimento (PEC) measures were proposed, one by each of the main opposition parties. All five motions were passed.

PM Sócrates went on television following the vote to announce the resignation of his government. President Cavaco Silva is likely to meet with the various parties to discuss whether a new administration can be formed or whether there should be early elections. The previous election was held in September 2009.

Portugal – Presidential election

In Portugal President Aníbal Cavaco Silva has been re-elected. He won at the first ballot of the election that was held on Sunday. He won 52.94 per cent of the vote.

The Electoral Commission is reporting that the abstention rate was very high with turnout at only 46.63 per cent. This is the big news in the Portuguese media.

Here is the result:

This result means that Portugal’s period of cohabitation is ongoing. The president is from the conservative Social democratic party (yes, that’s right) and there is a single-party Socialist government.

Portugal – Semi-presidential studies

With the exception of work in English (and maybe Italian), there are perhaps more studies in Portuguese that focus specifically on semi-presidentialism than in any other language. If you have a knowledge of French, Italian or, certainly, Spanish, then you can cope with Portuguese.

Here is a selection of work on semi-presidentialism in Portuguese. The references here are to studies of the concept of semi-presidentialism and to studies of semi-presidentialism in Portugal (i.e. excluding studies of other lusophone countries). I am not trying to be exhaustive, but if there is important work that I have missed (for example, chapters in edited books), then please let me know.

Bernhard H. Bayerlein, ‘Origens bonapartistas do semipresidencialismo português’, Análise Social, vol. xxxi (138), 1996 (4.°), pp. 803-830. (Available at:

Carlos Blanco de Morais, ‘As metamorfoses do semipresidencialismo português’, Revista Jurídica, 22, 1998, pp. 141-160. (Available – just about – at

Vitalino Canas, ‘Sistema semi-presidencial’, Dicionário Jurídico da Administração Pública – 1º Suplemento, 1998, pp. 490.

Raul Machado Horta, ‘A Constituição da República Portuguesa de 1976 e o regime semi-presidencial, in Jorge Miranda (ed.), Perspectivas constitucionais: nos 20 anos da Constituição de 1976, vol. 1, Coimbra Editora, 1996.

Manuel de Lucena, ‘Semipresidencialismo: teoria general e práticas portuguesas (I)’, Análise Social, vol. xxxi (138), 1996 (4.°), pp. 831-892. (Available at:

Jorge Miranda, ‘O sistema semipresidencial português entre 1976 e 1979’ Revista da Faculdade de Direito da Universidade de Lisboa, 25, 1984.

Jorge Miranda, ‘A experiência portuguesa de sistema semipresidencial’ Direito e Cidadania, 1, 1997, pp. 9-25.

Isaltino A. Morais, José Mário Ferreira de Almeida, Ricardo Leite Pinto, O sistema de governo semipresidencial (o caso portugues), Editorial Noticias, 1984.

Octavio Amorim Neto and Marina Costa Lobo, ‘O semipresidencialismo português revisitado: uma avaliação do papel do presidente na política nacional,1976-2006’, in Marina Costa Lobo and Octavio Amorim Neto (eds.), O Semipresidencialismo nos Países de Língua Portuguesa, Imprensa de Ciências Sociais, 2009, pp. 25-48.

Jorge Reis Novais, Semipresidencialismo: Volume I – Teoria do sistema de governo semipresidencial, Almedina, 2007.

André Gonçalves Pereira, O semipresidencialismo em Portugal, Ática, 1984.

Cristina Queiroz, ‘A classificação das formas de governo. Em particular, o sistema de governo “semi-presidenciaI”’, in Jorge Miranda (ed.), Estudos em Homenagem ao Professor Doutor Armando M. Marques Guedes, Coimbra Editora, 2004.

Cristina Queiroz, O Sistema de Governo Semi-Presidencial, Coimbra Editora, 2007.

There are also plenty of articles on the president, the PM, president-PM relations, executive-legislative relations etc., many of which frame the study more or less explicitly in the context of semi-presidentialism. One example is:

Maritheresa Frain, ‘Relações entre o Presidente e o primeiro-ministro em Portugal: 1985-1995’, Análise Social, vol. xxx (133), 1995 (4.°), pp. 653-678. (Available at:

There is also a huge literature in Portuguese in the field of constitutional law that refers, positively or negatively, directly or indirectly, to semi-presidentialism. For some references in this regard, see:

Ana Martins, ‘The Portuguese Semi-Presidential System About Law in the Books and Law in Action’, European Constitutional Law Review, vol. 2, pp. 81–100, 2006.