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map courtesy CIA World Factbook; click for enlargement Constitution, Government & Legislation

Portugal's April 25, 1976 constitution reflected the country's 1974-76 move from authoritarian rule to provisional military government to a parliamentary democracy with some initial communist and left-wing influence. The military coup in 1974 was a result of the colonial wars and removed the authoritarian dictator, Marcello Caetano, from power. The threat of a communist takeover in Portugal generated considerable concern among the country's NATO allies. The revolution also led to the country abruptly abandoning its colonies overseas and to the return of an estimated 600,000 Portuguese citizens from abroad. The 1976 constitution, which defined Portugal as a "Republic...engaged in the formation of a classless society," was revised in 1982, 1989, 1992, and 1997.

The 1982 revision of the constitution placed the military under strict civilian control, trimmed the powers of the president, and abolished the Revolutionary Council (a non-elected committee with legislative veto powers). The country joined the European Union in 1986, beginning a path toward greater economic and political integration with its richer neighbors in Europe. The 1989 revision of the constitution eliminated much of the remaining Marxist rhetoric of the original document, abolished the communist-inspired "agrarian reform," and laid the groundwork for further privatization of nationalized firms and the government-owned communications media.

The current Portuguese constitution provides for progressive administrative decentralization and calls for future reorganization on a regional basis. The Azores and Madeira Islands have constitutionally mandated autonomous status. A regional autonomy statute promulgated in 1980 established the Government of the Autonomous Region of the Azores; the Government of the Autonomous Region of Madeira operates under a provisional autonomy statute in effect since 1976. Apart from the Azores and Madeira, the country is divided into 18 districts, each headed by a governor appointed by the Minister of Internal Administration. Macau, a former dependency, reverted to Chinese sovereignty in December 1999.

The four main organs of the national government are the presidency, the prime minister and Council of Ministers (the government), the Assembly of the Republic (the parliament), and the judiciary. The president, elected to a 5-year term by direct, universal suffrage, also is commander in chief of the armed forces. Presidential powers include appointing the prime minister and Council of Ministers, in which the president must be guided by the assembly election results; dismissing the prime minister; dissolving the assembly to call early elections; vetoing legislation, which may be overridden by the assembly; and declaring a state of war or siege.

The Council of State, a presidential advisory body, is composed of six senior civilian officers, any former presidents elected under the 1976 constitution, five members chosen by the assembly, and five selected by the president.

The government is headed by the presidentially appointed prime minister, who names the Council of Ministers. A new government is required to define the broad outline of its policy in a program and present it to the assembly for a mandatory period of debate. Failure of the assembly to reject the program by a majority of deputies confirms the government in office.

The Assembly of the Republic is a unicameral body composed of up to 235 deputies. Elected by universal suffrage according to a system of proportional representation, deputies serve terms of office of 4 years, unless the president dissolves the assembly and calls for new elections.

Source: U.S. Department of State

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Courts & Judgments

The Portuguese court system, laid out in the Constitution, consists of a Constitutional Court, a Supreme Court of Justice, and judicial courts of first and second instance. The national Supreme Court is the court of last appeal. There is also a Supreme Court of Administration, which deals with administrative and tax disputes, and which is supported by lower administrative courts. An audit court is in the Ministry of Finance.

In trials for serious crimes, a panel of three judges presides. For lesser crimes, a single judge presides. At the request of the accused, a jury may be used in trials for major crimes; in practice, requests for jury trials are extremely rare.

Source: U.S. Department of State

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Human Rights

The Portuguese Government generally respected the human rights of its citizens in 2001; however, there were problems in some areas. Two police officers remained under investigation for killings. Credible reports continued that security personnel occasionally beat and otherwise abused detainees and prisoners. Prison conditions remained poor but improved slightly. Lengthy delays in holding trials led to hunger strikes by some pretrial detainees. Violence against women was a problem, and the Government took steps to address it. Discrimination and violence against Roma, minorities, and immigrants also were problems. The Government took active steps to deal with the problem of child labor. Trafficking in foreign laborers and women also was a problem.

Source: U.S. Department of State

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