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The Portuguese semi-presidential system in times of crisis, 2011-2015

Comparative Politics
Constitutions
Democracy
Executives
Government
Institutions
Parliaments
Political Leadership
André Freire
Centro de Investigação e Estudos de Sociologia – CIES-IUL
André Freire
Centro de Investigação e Estudos de Sociologia – CIES-IUL
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Abstract

The Portuguese semi-presidential regime has been defined as a system of government in which the President of the Republic, appointed by means of direct popular vote in a competitive election, has significant constitutional and political powers, well beyond the powers held by chiefs of State in weak semi-presidential regimes such as Ireland, Austria or Slovenia, although not being as powerful as the French President. According to the Portuguese Constitution, «The President of the Republic shall represent the Portuguese Republic, shall guarantee national independence, the unity of the state and the proper functioning of the democratic institutions, and shall be ex officio Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces» (article 120). Moreover, the Constitution states that the «Portugal shall be a sovereign Republic, based on the dignity of the human person and the will of the people and committed to building a free, just and solidary society (article 1).» Research on the Portuguese case has shown that the President's role varies according to the political conditions (namely, and above all, the type of majority in Parliament and its congruence with the presidential majority), and the timing of the Presidential term (first or second). We argue that short-term economic conditions may also interact with these two political factors. Between 2011 and 2014, Portugal was under extremely adverse conditions and foreign intervention resulting from the bailout agreement signed with the Troika (EC, ECB and IMF). In this period, the Portuguese case clearly illustrates the dilemma underlined by Peter Mair (2011): with current globalization and Europeanization processes, and especially with this sovereign debt crisis and foreign interventions in bailed out countries, national parties and governments (and Presidents) are becoming accountable to two major constituencies: their voters/citizens, at the national level, and their international partners (other EU governments, EU commission, ECB, IMF), at the international level. The purpose of the present paper is to analyze the role of the Portuguese President in the 2011-2015 term, as compared to previous Portuguese Presidential terms (1976-2011), in what regards the use of veto powers, requests of judicial reviews from the Constitutional Court, the President's (elected with the support of the right wing parties) relationship with the right-wing majority in government and Parliament (2011-2015), and the efforts undertaken in order to defend the Portuguese Constitution and democracy vis-à-vis international and domestic pressures.