Portugal Democracy and Rights

Democracy and rights

In 1974 Portugal went from dictatorship to democracy. The country today has a functioning democratic system, where several shifts of power have taken place in orderly form. Freedom of speech, assembly and press are guaranteed in the Constitution. However, corruption and poor conditions in the country’s prisons are serious problems.

Political elections are conducted according to democratic rules of the game and citizens are free to form political parties. In 1997, the constitution was amended to give Portuguese residents abroad the right to vote.

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Formally, men and women should have the same rights, but Portuguese society is still male-dominated. In 2015, almost one-third of the MPs were women, in 2019 the representation increased to 39 percent, largely because of new legislation which states that women must be guaranteed at least 40 percent of the seats in the National Assembly. For the first time, a black woman in parliament was elected as the representative of the eco-socialist Free (Livre).

Prohibition of discrimination on grounds of ethnic, language, religion, political affiliation and socio-economic background is enshrined in the constitution. Prohibitions also apply to racist organizations. In 2017, legislation on hate crimes was tightened.

The Roma minority and immigrants originating in Africa are discriminated against in terms of housing, employment and access to education (see Population and Languages).

Freedom of expression and media

Abbreviated as PRT by Abbreviationfinder, Portugal’s constitution guarantees freedom of the press and the press censorship was abolished in 1974.

In Reporters Without Borders index of freedom of the press in the countries of the world, in 2019 Portugal ranked 10th out of 180 countries (for list, see here). The country has thus climbed 20 placements since 2014.

Violation is still illegal and can be punishable by up to six months in prison, but prosecution is unusual. In several cases where people have been convicted of slander, the defendants have been released since the cases were brought by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) which meant that the judges had a restriction on their freedom of expression.

Denial of the Holocaust and incitement to a group of people is forbidden.

In 2018, new legislation was passed to strengthen the protection of journalists, with stricter penalties for those who harass and threaten media workers. A similar protection exists for judges, lawyers, witnesses, security personnel and sports judges.

There are about 10 newspapers in the country, all of which are privately owned. When it comes to etheric media, so-called public service companies have problems with inadequate funding, and they face stiff competition from private media companies.

Journalists often have low wages, and insecure employment.

The legislation gives citizens the right to access public documents, which is usually respected.

In 2017, three out of four Portuguese households had access to the Internet. This is a clear increase compared to just a few years earlier, not least thanks to the government’s efforts in new technology. Nevertheless, Internet use in Portugal is still lower than in many other parts of Western Europe.


In recent years, Portugal has been shaken by several corruption deals, in which both high-ranking politicians and leading people have been involved. Several of the attentive cases have led to prosecution. Corruption also occurs within authorities that handle permit and supervisory activities.

In 2017, José Sócrates, the country’s prime minister in 2005–2011, was prosecuted and about 10 other people, including a high ranking bank manager, for corruption, money laundering and tax fraud (Sócrates is accused of damaging the equivalent of € 34 million, but denies crime). In the spring of 2019, however, it was still unclear if the evidence was sufficient for it to be a trial.

Angola’s former Vice President Manuel Vicente and former chief of Angola’s state oil company were indicted in 2017 for attempting to bribe the Portuguese state prosecutor to bring two charges against him for money laundering (see Calendar) January 2018. In spring 2018, a Portuguese court ruled that the legal process should be moved to Angola.

According to the organization Transparency International’s index list of experienced Portugal in 2019 ranked 30 out of 180 countries (for list see here).

Judicial system and legal security

Legal certainty is high, but slow bureaucratic procedures make the justice system ineffective and prosecutors may have to wait a long time before their case is tried in court.

Portugal is criticized by human rights organizations for poor conditions for interns in overcrowded prisons. There are also reports that detainees are being abused by prison guards, and the police have been accused of using too much force in the arrest. Particularly vulnerable are Roma and people with an immigrant background.

Human rights are largely respected. In 2018, however, 18 police were charged with torture of six young black men.

The death penalty was abolished as early as 1867. However, during the military dictatorship of 1926-174 there were extrajudicial executions sanctioned by the state, so in practice the death penalty ended in 1974.

The criminal age is 16 years.

Portugal Crime Rate & Statistics



“Tax atomic bomb”

Parliament votes on a tightening budget for 2013 with tangible tax increases and reduced sickness and unemployment benefits. The budget is met by protest demonstrations, and the opposition calls it a “fiscal nuclear bomb”.


Record large tax increases

The government decides on the largest tax increases made in democratic Portugal. Protest demonstrations follow and the union calls for a general strike.


Record-breaking demonstrations

Further disbursement of the emergency loan will come, but the government is meeting with perhaps the biggest protests the country has experienced since the 1974 revolution. The government backs its proposal, but new plans for austerity are followed by new union-led protests. The aim of the austerity measures is to get green light for the entire rescue package of € 78 billion from the EU, IMF and ECB.


New payment is approved

The IMF approves a new payment. The IMF disbursement concerns one and a half billion euros of the emergency loan.


Portugal gets approved by the lenders

The EU, ECB and IMF give the country approval in the fourth quarter evaluation of how it manages the loan terms. As a result, lenders can pay another four billion euros. Portugal has so far been approved in all four evaluations.


Drastic savings

Four of the country’s public holidays are abandoned for five years from 2013 to save money.


Portugal ratifies the European Pact

Portugal is the first country to ratify the European Pact.


Portugal signs the European Pact

The European Act, which is a binding agreement on how the euro area countries should manage their budgetary discipline, is signed by Portugal.

The economic crisis deepens

Concerns are mounting in the euro area countries that Portugal will not be able to pay off the EU and IMF aid loans. The interest rate on the country’s government bonds is rising. Continued cuts and labor market reforms provoke strong popular protests and in the big cities, strikes are held that disrupt large parts of society – public transport, education and health care.


New billions are paid out

Portugal receives praise in the EU and IMF quarterly evaluation and a new charge of money is paid: EUR 14.9 billion.