Return to: Search Page or to: Table of Contents Vol. 7, issue 5

Marina Costa Lobo, "The Role of Political Parties in Portuguese Democratic Consolidation," 7 (September 2001), Party Politics, 642-653.

First Paragraph:
A unique phenomenon for Western Europe can be observed in recent Portuguese electoral history: without any favourable institutional change, a relatively polarized party system has evolved into a majoritarian party system (Morlino, 1998; Magone, 1998; Manuel, 1996; Bruneau, 1997; Nataf, 1995). Between 1976 and 1987, the party system was characterized by the existence of four relatively strong parties -- one of which was anti- system -- and a high degree of government instability. During that first decade of democracy, governments proved fairly vulnerable: none survived a full term, each government lasting on average 11 months. In contrast, since 1987 the two centre parties have alternated in government. In that year, the centre-right PSD (Partido Social Democrata) won an absolute majority and governed alone for the full mandate. In the following 1991 elections, the PSD was returned to power with a reinforced majority. In 1995, the Socialists (Partido Socialista [PS]) won a comfortable minority. For the first time there was alternation in govermnent, with the PS government lasting for a full term. More recently, in 1999, the PS renewed its mandate for another legislature, maintaining a comfortable minority.

Figures and Tables:
Table 1: Votes and net volatility (in %) of the major parties since 1974
Table 2: The effective number of parliamentary parties in Portugal, 1976-99
Table 3: Portuguese cabinets, 1976-99

Last Paragraph:
Political parties were obviously at the centre of the stabilization of the party system, and thus the consolidation of democracy. However, it has been shown that the main developments that occurred were also conditioned by the semi-presidential nature of the regime. Indeed, successive presidential elections have forced parties in the same bloc to join forces, especially in the second round of the presidential elections. This has contributed to the demise of both the small parties on either extreme of the political spectrum, namely the PCP and the CDS. The entry of the PRD, launched by President Eanes, signalled the electoral availability of a large part of the electorate to the centre parties, forcing them to adopt centripetal strategies of competition, which has favoured single party majorities and alternation. Thus, although parties have been fundamental in the stabilization of the party system, the institutional make-up of the political system has to be acknowledged as a crucial factor in the consolidation of democracy. Future research on the Portuguese party system should take into account the interplay between the party system and the dynamics of presidential elections.