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Portuguese Political Parties

Portuguese politics operated at several different levels. The constitution and the laws comprised the first level. This formal structure of government, often appeared rigid, legalistic, and impenetrable, especially to outsiders. Yet, these legal and constitutional structures were more obvious and more easily understood than the other levels of the Portuguese system of government.

The second level consisted of political parties and interest groups. Because of its legalistic tradition, a strict separation existed in Portugal between the formal governmental system and the sphere of political parties and interest groups. Portuguese tended to respect their formal system of government but to denigrate political parties and interest groups. As Portuguese democracy flourished through the 1980s, however, political parties and interest groups gained greater acceptance as an integral part of the system of government.

Unlike these first two levels, the third level of Portuguese politics was largely invisible and was the most difficult for outsiders to penetrate and comprehend. This level consisted of the informal connections, family relationships, interpersonal ties, kinships, and patronage networks that were so much the heart of the Portuguese political system. Seldom spoken of or described by the Portuguese, these relationships enabled the Portuguese system to function and to cut through vast layers of red tape.

The Constitution enshrines the freedom of association, thereby permitting the formation of political parties. Parties are permanent organisations in which citizens only participate if they want to, and are designed to exercise political power at the local, regional and national levels. Parties can form coalitions to stand for election together.

There are usually as many Parliamentary Groups as parties represented in the Assembly. Parliamentary Groups have certain rights, namely: indicating their representatives on Committees, presenting Bills, being heard - through their Chairpersons - in the setting of the Orders of the Day, proposing censure motions against the Government or the rejection of the Government Programme, initiating two debates with the Government per legislative Session.

The political conditions resulting from the 1910 Revolution meant that the only party represented in the Constituent Assembly was the Portuguese Republican Party. The different political groupings which later emerged from this party included the Democratic Party, which achieved dominance in the following years, although others such as the Evolutionist Party and the Unionist Party also attained a position of relevance.

The Democratic Party systematically won the elections to Congress (except in 1921) and was a dominant presence in state administration, restricting access to power by other party forces, except in short-lived coalitions. The dynamics of the system of government were disrupted by the difficulty encountered by the Democratic Party in forging broad alliances in parliament and in satisfying urgent social needs, resulting from changes in the economic and social life of the country as a result of Portugal taking part in World War I. The regime found itself faced by challenges to its authority, and calls were heard for national regeneration.

On 5 December 1917 a successful military revolt led by Sidónio Pais and supported by the Unionist Party led to the installation of a military dictatorship. A decree of 1918 provided in part for the adoption of a presidentialist system of government. The National Republican Party was set up (later changing its name to the Nationalist Party), and won the elections to Congress in 1918, although Monarchists and Catholics continued to represent a significant minority. After the assassination of Sidónio Pais in 1918 the country descended into a serious political crisis in which Republicans were pitched against Monarchists.

The Republicans only definitively gained the upper hand in March 1919, when they were faced with serious economical and social problems both at home and abroad. Governments followed each other in rapid succession in the twenties, with growing rivalries between the left and right wings of the Democratic Party. There were increasing fears of anarchist and Bolshevik supporters, and growing sympathy on the part of the army for authoritarian solutions. A dictatorship was eventually established in the wake of the military take-over of 28 May 1926, dissolving parliament.

Many of the informal networks that had long steered Portuguese affairs were severely disrupted by the Revolution of 1974 when many families and extended clans lost their property and their positions. However, many of these networks were rebuilt in subsequent years, and others were formed by the forging of new political and economic relationships. Knowledge of this third level of Portuguese politics was crucial for a full understanding of the formal and the informal dynamics within the Portuguese political system.

As Portugal became democratic after 1974, it also developed a political party system with a full spectrum of parties that ranged from the far left to the far right. During the SalazarCaetano regime, only one party was legal, the National Union (União Nacional--UN), later renamed the National Popular Action (Acção Nacional Popular--ANP). The UN/ANP was dissolved in the first weeks of the revolution, and a great variety of new parties soon replaced it.

Some political parties emerged very quickly because they already existed in preliminary form. Several factions of the old UN/ANP, for example, became separate political parties after the revolution. The socialists and, to a far greater extent, the communists already had underground groups operating in Portugal, as well as organizations in exile. Finally, some opposition elements had formed "study groups" that served as the basis of later political parties.

The party system increased in importance during the Second Republic. Large, strong parties were fostered under the d'Hondt method of proportional representation, and parties soon began to receive state subsidies. The parties' strength was also bolstered by their exclusive right to nominate political candidates and by the strict party discipline they enforced on successful candidates once they entered parliament. By the beginning of the early 1990s, only four parties regularly won seats in the parliament, and two were so much stronger than the others that Portugal seemed on the way to an essentially two-party system.

The Left Bloc (BE), comprises the younger left. The BE was vocal and effective in opposition to PS reform proposals. Both the PCP and BE are poised to gain support in national legislative elections, but are too small to govern. Each party hopes to form a coalition with the PS, not recognizing that the PS leadership is fleeing from the far left and would prefer a weak minority government to a coalition with the far left.

The "other" leftist party, the Greens (PEV) counted more on links to other green parties around the world than on any substantive platform. Global attention helped the PEV's polling numbers somewhat, but in 2009 the party kicked its one articulate and respected parliamentarian off of the national committee and was left without a respected public representative. In the 2001 election the PCP and the PEV ran together as the PCP/PEV coalition, which received a total of 441,147 votes (7.90%).

Since the fall of the Salazar-Caetano regime and as of the beginning of the 1990s, Portugal had not had a strong far-right party. Most of those associated with the old regime were driven into exile during the revolution, and all far-right parties were declared illegal. Some of the prohibitions against right-wing political activities still remained law, although in the 1980s many of those associated with the former regime had returned to the country and a handful had reentered politics. Rather than establishing new right-wing parties, conservatives and supporters of the old regime were most likely to be active politically through the PSD or the CDS.

The Popular Monarchist Party (Partido Popular Monárquico-- PPM) favored the restoration of the Bragança royal family, overthrown in 1910. Their program was complicated, however, by the existence of several competing Bragança pretenders to the throne. The PPM stood for a constitutional and limited monarchy similar to the one in Spain. This would mean that the monarch was a ceremonial chief of state, not a ruling head of government. The PPM argued that a monarchy would help unify the government, promote stability, and give the country a single, if mainly symbolic, head. In addition, the PPM campaigned for ecological concerns. Only once, in the 1987 elections for the EC, did the PPM win even 3 percent of the vote. Generally it won less than 1 percent. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, however, the PPM was part of the AD governing coalition, which consisted mainly of the CDS and the PSD.

For a time Portugal had a number of other, largely personalistic parties that rallied around a single leading personality rather than an issue or program. Most of these were small parties, frequently rising and falling quickly, and they commanded little electoral strength. These personalistic parties were often used as bargaining chips in the larger political arena, where their modest support might be traded for a cabinet post or other position. An exception to some of these rules was the Party of Democratic Renovation (Partido Renovador Democrático--PRD), made up of supporters of President Eanes. In the national elections of 1985, the PRD received 17.9 percent of the vote and seemed poised to emerge as a major electoral contender. In the national elections of 1987, however, it got just under 5 percent of the vote. After Eanes himself withdrew from politics, the party faded away, winning only 0.6 percent of the vote in the 1991 elections.

MPs depend on the parliamentary groups and in turn these depend on the parties. Parliamentary candidates are selected by the parties and if elected, they must obey the party line or face expulsion. The parliamentary group leadership has effective control over all MPs' initiatives. The legislative initiative of the parliamentary groups comes particularly from the party headquarters. The parliamentary groups, not to mention MPs themselves, do not have material and human resources to draw up projects.

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