Belém Palace, the official residence of the president of Portugal. In 2021, there will be several sets of elections in Portugal. Photo credit: Wikimedia/Edwin De Paepe (CC0)
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Portugal will hold a presidential election on January 24, 2021. After that, local elections are due in September or October.
Portugal’s president has the power to appoint the prime minister and the government, but the prime minister has most executive power.
Portugal spent 40 years under the dictatorship under Antonio Oliviera Salazar, who seized power in a 1932 military coup. Although Salazar died in 1970, his regime persisted until the 1974 Carnation Revolution, when the country returned to democracy. Since then, Portugal has been a robust democracy.
The two main parties, center-right Social Democratic Party (PSD) and leftist Socialist Party (PS), regularly alternate in power. Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa from PSD won the 2016 presidential election. He is running for re-election, and due to his popularity and strong polling numbers, likely to win.
In the 2015 parliamentary elections, PSD won a plurality of seats and briefly formed a minority government, which collapsed after less than two months. PS leader Antonio Costa formed a left-wing coalition and became prime minister. In the 2019 elections, the Socialists won again, but did not get a majority. Subsequently, Costa formed a minority government.
Other parties that have seats in the National Assembly (the unicameral parliament) include the far-left Left Bloc and the Communists, who combined hold 29 out of 230 seats, and a collection of smaller green, Christian Democratic, and liberal parties.
Unlike Spain, Portugal does not have a strong Eurosceptic party. The far-right Chega! (Enough!), founded in 2019, only won one seat in the last elections. In contrast, Spain’s far-right Vox party has performed well recently. However, the party won seats in the Azores regional elections on October 25, 2020, and plans to field a candidate in the upcoming presidential election.
Portugal has two autonomous regions: Azores, an archipelago in the mid-Atlantic, and the island of Madeira.
Madeira, best known for producing a fortified wine that was one of George Washington’s favorites, held elections for its regional parliament in September 2019. The Socialists deprived PSD of their majority, and moreover tripled their vote count.
After that, Azores held regional elections on October 25, 2020. The Socialists won, but in a result that surprised many, lost their absolute majority. In addition, Chega! will enter the regional parliament for the first time, having garnered five percent of the vote.
As geopolitical strategist George Friedman notes, “The Portuguese now think of themselves as having three relationships with the world. The first is with the European Union, but there is deep concern about its fate. The second relationship is with Britain, with which Portugal has been allied for centuries, particularly against the Spanish, whom the British occasionally confronted. Spain is still regarded with unease by many Portuguese I spoke to. Finally, and very important, are the creations of the Portuguese empire: Mozambique, Angola and Brazil, among others.”
The Portugal News (November 24, 2020): Elections for Presidency scheduled for January
Paul Ames, Politico (October 26, 2020): Portugal’s Socialists lose absolute majority in Azores regional election
Susi Dennison and Lívia Franco, European Council on Foreign Relations (October 2, 2019): The instinctive multilateralist: Portugal and the politics of cooperation
Catarina Demony and Goncalo Almeida, Reuters (April 25, 2019): Portugal marks 45 years of democracy but fight carries on
George Friedman, Geopolitical Futures (May 9, 2018): Geopolitical Journey to Portugal
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Updated November 25, 2020