Portugal,  Portuguese Culture

How the Government Works in Portugal

Since my family is moving to Portugal, I thought it would be a good time to see how the government works there.  Do they have a democracy?  How about a monarch?  Is the government in Portugal similar to the one in the United States?

I dug into the internet to find out at least the basics, and I wanted to share what I found out.

What is the Type of Government in Portugal?

Portugal has four sovereign bodies in government.  These are the President of the Republic, the Assembly of the Republic, the courts, and The Government.

The Executive Branch

The President’s official residence, Belém Palace, Lisbon

The President of the Republic is the Chief of State and Commander in Chief of the armed forces.  He or she can appoint the Prime Minister and the president’s Council of Ministers/Council of State.  He can also dismiss the Prime Minister.  Another power is to dissolve the Assembly to call for early elections.  The president has veto powers over legislation.  If needed, the president can declare war or siege.

The president’s Council of Ministers advises the president.  It is composed of the following people:

  • The President of the Assembly of Portugal (parliament)
  • The Prime Minister
  • The President of the Constitutional Court of Portugal 
  • The Ombudsman of Portugal (represents the interests of the public)
  • The President of the Azores
  • The President of the Madeira archipelago
  • Former presidents of the Republic who are not relieved of their functions
  • Five citizens appointed by the President of the Republic
  • Five citizens appointed by the Assembly of the Republic

The Legislative Branch

Palace of Saint Benedict, Lisbon, where the Assembly of the Republic and the Supreme Court of Justice work

Portugal has a Parliamentary pseudo-democracy.  That means the people do not directly elect their representatives.  Instead, they vote for a political party.  The winning parties then appoint their allotment of representatives to the Assembly of the Republic, the parliament.  

The Assembly of the Republic has just one legislative chamber.  Up to 230 deputies serve 4-year terms unless the president dissolves the Assembly and calls for new elections.  Of the deputies, 226 represent people in Portugal, and 4 deputies represent Portuguese living abroad.

The Constitutional Court curently recognises 25 political parties.  You can find the list here, from far-left to far-right.  Many of the parties aren’t represented in the Assembly right now.  At present, nine parties are serving in the Assembly since 2019.

The Judicial Branch

The Supreme Court of Justice is the court of final appeal.  The twelve Counselors (Justices) are nominated by the president and appointed by the Assembly.  They serve lifetime terms.

Constitutional Court has thirteen judges. Of these, ten are elected by the Assembly and three are chosen by current Constitutional Court judges.  They serve for one six-year term only and can not be on the Constitutional Court again.

Other national categories of courts include military, administrative, and fiscal courts. In addition, local municipalities and districts have criminal and civil courts.

The Government

The Government is led by the Prime Minister.  Other members of this body are Ministers and Junior Ministers/State Secretaries.  

This body has the power to negotiate with international organizations.  They also propose bills and submit them to the Assembly, implement the State Budget, and make administrative policies.  The Government guides all actions in the Portuguese political system.

After the Assembly of the Republic is elected or the previous administration resigns, the Assembly gives their views to the President.  The President appoints the Prime Minister.  The Prime Minister then appoints the other officials to form The Government.  

The President of the Republic swears in the Prime Minister and other officials of The Government.  The Government then presents its program to the Assembly of the Republic.  The program outlines the federal guidelines and measures which they plan to adopt during the ministers’ terms of service.

The Current Government in Portugal

The current President of the Republic is Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, 71, of the Social Democratic party.  He is immensely popular in Portugal.  His strength is building bridges across the various parties and bringing people together.  

While on holiday in the Algarve in August 2020, the president jumped in the ocean to save two women who were struggling in the water.  You can read about it here.

António Luís Santos da Costa, 59, of the Socialist Party, is the current Prime Minister, elected to his second term in 2019.  He is also quite popular.  You can read about him here.

After the fiscal crisis of 2008-2009, Portugal got a 78 billion Euro ($85 billion) bailout from the EU.  To pay that back, the EU implemented a severe austerity program in Portugal. 

During Costa’s first term, he decreased the deficit from 7% to 0.4% and almost halved unemployment from nearly 14% to 7%.  The economy grew and tourism boomed.  Portugal exited austerity measures and, until the pandemic, was outpacing Europe in growth.

Leaning Towards the Left and Winning

Costa’s Government has been working with several left-leaning parties to make the needed agreements to improve the country.  This has turned the country further to the left, quite different from other European countries.  

In fact, other EU states didn’t believe that Costa’s Government would be successful.  They called it geringonça, meaning an odd contraption likely to fall apart.  Costa proved them wrong.

Not everything is great with Portugal yet.  The minimum wage in Portugal is 635 euros ($701.42).  Youth unemployment sits at 21.5% and the country’s debt is still high, at nearly 132% of GDP.  

Only time will tell if Costa’s Government can continue to improve Portugal’s state of affairs.

Contact us if you have any questions or comments about this, or any other, post.  We love hearing from our readers!

Subscribe to our newsletter below:


  • Dan

    This is a very interesting read. I imagine that people high up in Portugal’s government are much more “approachable” than here in the US, but I might be wrong about that. I’m looking forward to seeing how government affects people firsthand over there.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *