Path: ICPP > ICPP 1980 > List of Countries --> Portugal
Kenneth Janda
Political Parties: A Cross-National Survey
New York: The Free Press, 1980: pp. 397-398
PORTUGAL: The Party System in 1950-1956 and 1957-1962
(Text as published in 1980 citation above)

A revolution in 1910 deposed the monarchy in Portugal and replaced it with a republican government. A period of instability followed, which led to the end of the republic on May 25, 1926 by a military dictatorship. General Oscar Carmona, the head of the military junta, became president in 1928 (reelected in 1935, 1942, and 1949), but the real political power during his presidency lay in the hands of Antônio de Oliveira Salazar, a former university professor named finance minister in 1928 who became prime minister in 1932. A constitution adopted in 1933 gave form to his regime and established Portugal as a corporative republic, vesting legislative power in a "popularly elected" Legislative Assembly and a Corporative Chamber that in theory represented economic, administrative, moral, and cultural associations, although only the economic ones were ever formally established.

The Portuguese National Union or União Nacional was founded in 1930 to facilitate the transition between the military dictatorship and the emerging corporative republic. It specifically described itself as a nonparty organization, but it functioned like a party in mobilizing popular support for government policies through propaganda and cooptation of elites within its activities. The National Union was largely Salazar's creation, and he was president of its Central Committee throughout our time period. While the Communist and other parties were banned, small opposition alliances were partially tolerated during one month periods prior to elections, although they were usually harassed and pressured to withdraw their candidates. President Carmona was faced with an opposition candidate in the 1949 election in the form of General Norton de Matos, but Matos withdrew in protest just before the election. Following Carmon's death, the National Union candidate General Francisco Craveiro Lopes was opposed in 1951 by Admiral Quintao Meireles, who also withdrew in protest before the election. In the 1958 election, the official candidate, Admiral Americo Tomáz, was confronted by General Humberto Delgado, who stayed in the race and won 23 percent of the vote. Because of Delgado's challenge, the constitution was revised in 1959 to elect the president by an electoral college instead of by direct suffrage, thus reducing further the opportunity for legitimate organized opposition to the government and the regime.

Continuity and Change since 1962

Portugal is one of the few countries in our study that experienced a complete change in its party system after 1962. Its instability score is not only the highest for Western countries but is one of the highest in the study. Following the military coup in 1974, which dissolved the governing party, four new parties arose to win more than 5 percent of the seats in the 1975 and 1976 elections.

Original Parties, Terminated

171 National Union. This was the governing party of the Salazar regime. Following Salazar's death in 1968, the party's name was changed to the Popular National Action (ANP) in 1970 but continued to hold all seats in the Assembly. The party terminated in 1974 with the military coup, which also dissolved the Assembly until elections were held in 1975 for a constituent assembly to draw up a new constitution.

New Parties, Continuing

172 Socialist Party. The Socialist Party (PSP) was formed in 1973 and was led by Mário Soares, who became the first prime minister under the new constitution in 1976.

173 Social Democratic. Formed in 1974 as the Popular Democratic Party (PPD), its name was changed in 1976. The Social Democrats, who were somewhat to the right of the Socialists, were second only to the Socialists in size in parliament under the new constitution.

174 Communist Party. Originally founded in 1921, the Communist Party had been banned by the government as early as 1926 but continued a clandestine existence. It was fourth in parliamentary size after the 1976 elections.

175 Social Democratic Center. Formed in 1974, the Social Democratic Center (CDS) is affiliated with the European Union of Christian Democrats (Europa Yearbook, 1978, p. 1064) and is right of center.


For nearly 50 years, Portugal had an authoritarian government operating under a single-party system. The coup in 1974 ended that regime, and the military prepared for a quick change to multiparty politics by providing for free elections in 1975 to frame a new constitution and again in 1976 to elect a legislature. Our four new parties together captured no less than 85 percent of the vote in each election, but no party emerged with a . majority of seats. It is perhaps too much to expect that multiparty politics would operate smoothly in a nation lacking experience with competitive parties, and Portugal soon slid into a situation of government instability, shifting from a minority Socialist government under Mário Soares to a Soares government supported by a, shaky coalition of Social Democrats and independents, and after July 1978 to a right-centrist government with Soares. As of early 1979, Portugal's multiparty system was still in a delicate condition.

[For party politics in Portugal since 1962, go to the essay by Michael J. Faber]

1. Our study of party politics in Portugal is based on a file of 725 pages from 71 documents, of which two are in Spanish, the rest English. A sum of 460 pages in our total file deal specifically with the National Union (code 171) constituting 63 percent of the pages in the file. The bibliographic search and indexing of material for the file was done by Jarol Manheim, who also coded the National Union on the variables in the ICPP conceptual framework. Ronald Chilcote was our outside consultant.