Political Parties

Portugal Table of Contents

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.

Far Left

Far-left groups, most importantly the Portuguese Democratic Movement (Movimento Democrático Português--MDP), had considerable influence in the early part of the revolution. Consisting mostly of students and intellectuals, these groups were augmented by leftists from all over the world who flocked to Portugal to witness and participate in the revolution. They often engaged in guerrilla tactics, street demonstrations, and takeovers of private lands and industries. On their own, these groups could mount major demonstrations; in alliance with the PCP, they could be even more formidable. Since the heady revolutionary days of the mid-1970s, however, most of these groups have been absorbed into the larger parties or dissolved. As of the beginning of 1990s, some far-left groups were still active at the universities and in intellectual circles, but they were seen as a fringe phenomenon and lacked their former disruptive capacity.

Portuguese Communist Party

The main party on the revolutionary left in Portugal was the Portuguese Communist Party (Partido Comunista Português--PCP). The PCP had a long history of defiance to the Salazar dictatorship, and many of the party's leaders had spent long years in jail or in exile. Party members who remained in Portugal worked underground where they formed associations and organized the labor union Intersindical. The party was strongly Stalinist and Moscow-oriented.

Returning from exile in 1974, the PCP's leaders, many of whom were reputed to be capable and formidable politicians, tried to seize power by means of a coup, allying themselves with revolutionary elements in the Armed Forces Movement (Movimento das Forças Armadas--MFA). The party came close to seizing power in 1975 but failed because moderate elements within the armed forces and the political parties to the right of it were committed to Western democracy. Extensive financial aid from Western countries to these parties also contributed to the PCP's ultimate defeat.

The PCP, along with its far-left allies, got 17 percent of the vote in the first democratic election in Portugal in 1975, and for several elections after that it held its position at approximately 12 to 19 percent of the vote. But during the 1980s, as Portugal moved away from the radical politics of the mid-1970s and began to prosper economically, the PCP's popularity declined to less than 10 percent of the vote. The party remained strong in the trade unions, but younger members of the party challenged the old leadership and questioned the party's hard-line Stalinist positions. Some of these young challengers were expelled from the party. The collapse of the communism in Europe, the aging of the party's leadership (the party had been headed by Álvaro Cunhal since 1941) and of its membership, and the party's poor showing in elections indicated that the party would either have to transform itself fundamentally or fade away as a political force.

Socialist Party

The history of the Socialist Party (Partido Socialista--PS) in Portugal dates back to the late nineteenth century. Like the PCP, it was persecuted and forced into exile by Salazar. The party was reestablished in 1973 in the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) under the leadership of Mário Soares, who had opposed the regime as a young man and had been imprisoned for his political activities. Soares returned to Portugal a few days after the coup of April 25, 1974, and the PS began to function openly as a political party. It had both a moderate and a militant wing, but the militancy was tempered by the articulate and politically shrewd Soares.

The PS, as one of the two largest parties in Portugal, has often formed governments. In the revolutionary situation in 1974- 75, the socialists were looked on as the most viable moderate opposition to the PCP. The PS therefore received considerable foreign support, as well as domestic votes, that it might not otherwise have had. It regularly received about 28 to 35 percent of the vote and was in power from 1976 to 1978 and in a governing coalition with the PSD from 1983 to 1985.

In power the PS followed a moderate, centrist program. As the Portuguese electorate became more conservative in the 1980s, however, the party lost support. In the 1985 election, it got only 20.8 percent of the vote, although this percentage improved slightly in the 1987 national elections. The party won the 1989 municipal elections, but despite an impressive improvement in the 1991 national election when it polled 29.3 percent of the vote, it still lagged far behind the PSD. Persistent leadership problems since Soares left the party when he was elected president in 1986 and inept campaigns were seen as causes of the party's secondary position in Portuguese politics. At times the disputes between the moderate and Marxist factions were renewed, but the party as a whole had moved far enough to the right that in the 1991 national election the PS had difficulty distinguishing itself from the PSD on most major issues.

Social Democrat Party

The Social Democrat Party (Partido Social Democrata--PSD) emerged as the somewhat open and tolerated opposition under Caetano in the early 1970s. For a time, the PSD, then known as the Popular Democratic Party (Partido Popular Democrata--PPD), adopted the reformist political doctrines popular during the revolutionary period of the mid-1970s. It was soon overtaken, however, by the PS as the main opposition party, and it moved toward the democratic center. The radical constitution of 1976 was drafted and promulgated with its help, but even then the PSD was committed to its revision.

The PSD's fortunes generally improved as revolutionary fervor waned. In the earliest postrevolutionary elections, the PSD got about 24 to 27 percent of the vote, second to the PS. It had scored well in the conservative north of Portugal but not in the revolutionary south. As the party began to occupy the broad center of the political spectrum under the dynamic leadership of Francisco Sá Carneiro, the PSD's electoral support grew. In 1978 the PSD formed an electoral coalition, the Democratic Alliance (Aliança Democrática--AD), with two other parties and came to power in early 1980 with Sá Carneiro as prime minister. Since the formation of this government, the PSD remained in government throughout the 1980s and into the first half of the 1990s, either as part of a coalition, in a minority single-party cabinet, or as a majority single-party government.

The AD won the parliamentary election of October 1980, but the coalition's forward movement slowed somewhat after the death of Sá Carneiro in a plane crash in December 1980. His successor, Expresso founder and editor Francisco Pinto Balsemão, lacked Sá Carneiro's forcefulness and charisma. The party formed an electoral coalition with the PS in 1983, the Central Bloc, and was in government until 1985 when the coalition ended. For two years, the PSD formed a minority government with its new leader, Aníbal Cavaco Silva, as prime minister. In the 1987 national elections, the PSD won the Second Republic's first absolute parliamentary majority, a feat the party repeated in the 1991 elections. By consistently favoring free-market policies, the PSD benefited from Portugal's improved economy after the country joined the EC in 1986 and the electorate's return to a more conservative position after the radical politics of the mid1970s .

Party of the Social Democratic Center

The Party of the Social Democratic Center (Partido do Centro Democrático Social--CDS) was a Christian democratic party to the right of the political spectrum. Though not officially a religious party, the CDS was linked to mainly conservative Portuguese Catholicism and most of its officials and followers were Roman Catholic. Unlike some other Christian democratic parties, the conservative CDS did not advocate liberation theology. The party was founded in 1975 by Diogo Freitas do Amaral, a respected politician and a professor of administrative law.

The CDS won 15.9 percent of the vote in the 1976 elections and for a time formed a government with the PS. It increased its power when it formed an electoral coalition with the PSD in 1979 and was in power until the coalition ended in 1983. Since then the party lost much of its electoral support, gaining only a little more than 4 percent of the vote in the 1987 and 1991 parliamentary elections, and seemed consigned to lesser political significance. The strength of the PSD at the polls meant that the CDS was no longer needed to form center-right governments. A decline of the PSD seemed the only opportunity for the CDS to return to power, either with the PSD or with the PS.

Far Right

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.

Popular Monarchist Party

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.

Other Parties

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.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress