Portugal Table of Contents
Although Portugal's government includes a parliament, an assembly, and a cabinet needing parliamentary support, its president has considerable power. As noted above, this dual system was a response to the Portugal's experiences with parliamentary instability and dictatorship. Yet, the extent of the president's power, even after the 1982 revision of the constitution, was not always clear. As a result, at times the relationships among the main institutions of the Portuguese system remained somewhat ambiguous.
The president is elected by majority vote in nationwide balloting. The term of office is five-years, and no president may serve more than two consecutive terms. Real power is vested in the office of the president, who is not merely a symbol of national unity, but rather the chief of state. In times of national crisis, presidents can make or unmake governments, and even in normal times (for example, when the government is weak and no party has a majority) they can exercise considerable influence behind the scenes.
According to the terms of the 1989 revised edition of the constitution, the president's powers and duties include acting as supreme commander of the armed forces, promulgating laws, declaring a state of siege, granting pardons, submitting legislation to the Constitutional Court for approval, making many high appointments, and, when needed, removing high officials from their posts. He also calls elections, convenes special sessions of the Assembly of the Republic, dissolves this body in accordance with law, and appoints the prime minister.
The 1982 amendments to the constitution reduced the powers of the presidency somewhat, mainly by specifying the periods in which presidents may not dissolve the assembly (during the first six months after its election, in the last six months of his term, and during a state of siege or an emergency) and stipulating when they may dismiss a government ("only when this becomes necessary to secure the regular functioning of the democratic institutions"). The presidential veto power was reduced in that a simple majority in the assembly can override presidential vetoes. The former power of pocket veto was also abolished. According to the 1982 amendments, the president must either accept legislation or reject it.
The presidency was intended for a national figure of great prestige and ideally one above partisan politics. As of the early 1990s, Portugal had had only two presidents since the constitution was promulgated in 1976. General Eanes was elected in 1976 and easily reelected to a second term in 1980. In 1986 PS leader Soares was elected to the presidency, but only in the runoff election after he gained the support of the PCP and the PSD. In January 1991, he easily won reelection for a second term.
These two men were genuinely popular presidents because of their statesmanlike qualities and their obvious devotion to their country's welfare. General Eanes was widely regarded as the man who made possible Portugal's transition to centrist democracy after the tumult of the revolution. He was politically moderate and a conciliator who remained apart from the country's contending factions. In Portugal's democratic transition, Soares was also seen as a heroic figure who had fought tenaciously first against the Salazar regime, enduring both imprisonment and exile, and later against communist rule. He was also the country's first civilian president since the First Republic.
Data as of January 1993