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Autonomous Regions and Macau

The archipelagoes of the Azores and Madeira had long enjoyed a substantial degree of administrative autonomy when in 1976 the new constitution established them as autonomous political regions. According to the constitution, political autonomy was granted in response to the islands' geographical, economic, social, and cultural characteristics and because of "the historic aspirations of the peoples of the islands to autonomy." This autonomy, however, "shall in no way affect the [Portuguese] State's full sovereignty and shall be exercised within the limits of the Constitution."

The constitution grants the autonomous regions a number of powers, among them the power to legislate in areas relating specifically to them, execute laws, tax, supervise local public institutions, and participate in drafting international agreements that affect them. This last provision has meant that Azorean officials have participated in talks between the United States and Portugal about military bases located on their islands.

The national government is represented by the minister of the republic who functions in much the same manner as the president of the republic does on the mainland. The minister has veto powers similar to those of the president. If the autonomous regions' governing organs have acted contrary to the dictates of the constitution, they may be dissolved by the president of the republic.

Each autonomous region has a legislative assembly elected for four-year terms. The d'Hondt method (see Glossary) is used to determine voting results. A president heads a regional government composed of regional secretaries, which reflects the party composition of the regional assembly. This government is politically responsible to the regional assembly in the same manner that the national government is responsible to the Assembly of the Republic.

Among other powers, the regional assembly has the right to initiate legislation, review the regional government's budget, and vote motions of censure. A regional government has powers similar to those of the national government, and its members directed a number of regional secretariats that correspond to the mainland's ministries. Local government in the regions corresponds to the mainland's municipalities and parishes.

Macau consists of a peninsula attached to the Chinese mainland and two islands with a total area of about 17 square kilometers. In 1987 its population was estimated at 435,000 persons. Portuguese explorers first reached Macau in the early sixteenth century, and it became a Portuguese colony in 1557. According to an agreement in 1987 between Portugal and China, Macau was to become a "special administrative region" of China on January 20, 1999. Even after this date, however, Macau would be allowed to maintain its capitalist economy, and Portuguese would remain its official language. Until 1999 Macau would remain a Special Territory of Portugal. Although the territory's highest executive official was a governor appointed by the president of Portugal, Macau enjoyed a substantial degree of autonomy and had its own legislative assembly.

Data as of January 1993