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The Portuguese Government, Politics, and Administrative Structure

I have only the vaguest of notions about politics and the government in Portugal. Socialist, right? Big government? I realized recently that not knowing how the government works is a huge gap in my knowledge and the knowledge of anyone who is thinking about moving to Portugal. If you're going to live in a new country, it only makes sense to understand how that country's government functions. After all, your daily life is affected by the government all the time as you use services, abide by laws, pay taxes, and engage in trade.

So, let's start with the natural beginning of any web search of a new topic, shall we?

"Politics in Portugal takes place in a framework of a 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."

I am always amused? dismayed? by the way language and semantics is so often twisted when naming political parties. Upon reflection, almost always by a right wing group adopting left wing terminology. And upon further reflection, usually co-opting the word, "Social" (and perhaps "People's" too - have to look that up).

Ha! I just read a bit further. "People's" is confirmed:

"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."

My impression here is that, as usual, there are two main parties, one more left and one more right, but that the whole apparatus is all shifted left of what exists in Canada and far left of America. The structure is typically European (and Canadian) in that other parties participate in government (showing my ignorance of other types of government here. Egypt? No idea). One major difference from the Canadian system is that there is both a President and a Prime Minister. At present, after a lot of confusing political wrangling in 2015, the left-wing Socialist Party is in control. Portugal's modern political history is, in fact, very left-wing:

"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." (Wikipedia - Politics of Portugal)

The above passage mentions the dictator, Marcelo Caetano, and any history of Portugal's political history must consider him and his more influential predecessor, António de Oliveira Salazar. Salazar ruled as Prime Minister from 1932 to 1968, establishing the Estado Novo (New State). His rule was both conservative and authoritarian, but complicated:

"Opposed to democracy, communism, socialism, anarchism and liberalism, Salazar's rule was conservative and nationalist in nature. Salazar distanced himself from fascism and Nazism, which he criticized as a "pagan Caesarism" that recognised neither legal nor moral limits.[1] Salazar promoted Catholicism, but argued that the role of the Church was social, not political, and negotiated the Concordat of 1940. One of the mottos of the Salazar regime was "Deus, Pátria e Família" (meaning "God, Fatherland and Family")."

With the Estado Novo enabling him to exercise vast political powers, Salazar used censorship and a secret police to quell opposition, especially any that related to the Communist movement. He supported Francisco Franco in the Spanish Civil War and played a key role in keeping Portugal and Spain neutral during World War II while still providing aid and assistance to the Allies." (António de Oliveira Salazar, Wikipedia)

Let's leave Portugal's turbulent 20th century political history aside as it is really terribly complicated. The bad news is that the 21st century is, if anything, more complicated. I will do my best to strip this down to the basics.

Before Corona, Portugal was enjoying a reputation as one of the more stable countries in Europe. This is actually quite remarkable, given the left-leaning government (such governments usually not famous for fiscal responsibility) and the devastating impact of The Crisis, a crippling economic/financial crisis that impacted the country from 2010(ish) to 2014. (2010–2014 Portuguese financial crisis, Wikipedia)

Portugal's economic recovery has been dramatic, fueled by tourism, foreign investment, and an end to the austerity measures demanded by a €78 billion bailout in 2011. The re-election of Prime Minister António Costa in 2019 reflects the success his coalition government has had in overcoming The Crisis since his first election in 2015. (Portugal Prime Minister Is Re-Elected as Socialists Solidify Position, NY Times, Oct 06, 2019)

It remains to be seen, of course, how this recovery stands up to the current situation.

Okay, enough of that. Feels like being in university again.

The following information and maps are found at Subdivisions of Portugal and


12 Aveiro 13 Viseu

16 Porto 17 Braga

Regions: Northern Portugal, Central Portugal, Lisbon, Alentejo, Algarve

Like most nations, Portugal is divided into a hierarchy of geographic areas for administrative purposes. From largest to smallest, these are Regions (5), Districts (18), Municipalities (278), and Civil Parishes (2882). There are also the Autonomous Regions and Sub-regions of the Azores and Madeira.

"The district system dates back to 25 April 1835, a creation of the Liberal government, and inspired by the French départements, with the objective to facilitate the action of government and permit access to the authorities.[4]

The district is the most relevant and historically significant subdivision of the nation's territory; it serves as the basis for a series of administrative divisions, such as electoral constituencies or district football associations, as well as being a socially recognizable territorial division of the country.[3]" (Administrative divisions of Portugal, Wikipedia)

I'm going to have to write about football at some point, a real cornerstone of the Portuguese character. Alas, my ignorance is total.

I believe the Algarve is unique in that its region (Algarve) and District (Faro) are identical. It is composed of 16 Municipalities:

Each Municipality is named for a town in it. Most of them contain a range of landscapes, including wild and urbanized coastlines, rural/agricultural areas, and low mountains.

Woah, this is great interface: Map of Algarve Municipalities by VisitAlgarve, a government tourism site. Well worth a look.

"The freguesia ("civil parish") is the lowest level local administrative unit in Portugal. There are over 4,000 of them and they have an average population of around 2,500.

Municipalities are divided into Civil Parishes, the smallest level of government." (Parishes of Portugal, Wikipedia)

Goes to show how reliable Wikipedia is. The above says over 4,000 but earlier Wikipedia information says 2,882 (not counting Azores/Madeira). Regardless, thousands.

"Municipalities in Portugal are usually divided into multiple freguesias, but seven municipalities are not: Alpiarça, Barrancos, Castanheira de Pera, Porto Santo, São Brás de Alportel and São João da Madeira all consist of a single civil parish,..." (Freguesia, Wikipedia)

For example, the Civil Parishes in Silves are:

I don't know where this map comes from originally, but I found it on this old Portuguese Heraldry site. I love this site! Deserving of it's own blog post.

(Boom. I just took the "Under Construction" notice off of the Home Page. We are now officially open. Somehow weirdly fitting given that it is Cinco de Mayo. All the links work (I think) and there's a respectable amount of content to begin with. Now I have to start emailing people/businesses/websites I have linked to.)

In a perfect world, I would now continue to outline what each level of government is responsible for, but I am running out of steam. Plus, I just found an amazing resource I want to quickly post about before heading into the day. BLANCA VALBUENA - specifically, this page on buying a house in Portugal. Talk about detailed. Looking forward to the rest of the site if this is any example.

One last thing, this is a great collection of links to various government resources as well as lots of other stuff: One World Nations - Profile of Portugal

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