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Cristina Leston-Bandeira, "Dissent in a Party-based Parliament: The Portuguese Case," Party Politics, 15 (November 2009), 695-713. [Available at]

First paragraph:
How is party dissent expressed in a highly cohesive parliament where the party groups are the core unit of parliamentary organization? Do MPs resort to actual voting dissent in this type of parliament? These are the questions addressed in this article in reference to the Portuguese parliament. The literature tells us that party dissent is a non-issue in this parliament; party discipline is said to be strong (Braga da Cruz, 1988), and yet no publication has explored empirical evidence on this issue. The literature merely tells us that the Portuguese parliament is highly party-centred and cohesive, and that MPs have little scope for individual intervention in parliament (Braga da Cruz, 1988; Costa-Lobo, 2003; Leston-Bandeira, 2004; van Biezen, 2000b). Previous findings by the author, however, have revealed the existence not only of party dissent, but also of actual voting dissent, raising new questions on the topic (Leston-Bandeira, 2004: 125-6). In this article, we look at the context that constrains party dissent in the Portuguese parliament and then analyse voting data for a period of just over 30 years (1976-99). We explain the different means through which MPs have expressed dissent, and show that there has been regular, albeit timid, voting dissent in the Portuguese parliament.

Figures and Tables:
Table 1. Voting dissent in the Portuguese parliament, 1976-99 (PJLs and PPLs, first reading and final vote)
Table 2. Voting dissent per deliberative stage, 1976-99 (PJLs and PPLs)
Figure 1. Total number of MPs dissenting, 1976-99
Table 5. Topics of voting dissent, 1976-99 (PJLs and PPLs, first reading and final vote)

Last Paragraph:
Taking the case of the Portuguese parliament, this article has demonstrated that even in a highly cohesive parliament, where the party unit dominates parliamentary organization, MPs find ways of expressing disagreement with their parties. Although the institutional framework emphasizes the parties' control over the electoral mandate and parliamentary business, MPs have developed a number of imaginative ways of showing that, on occasion, they disagree with their parties - to the extent that they even dissent in voting. Indeed, the data between 1976 and 1999 show that MPs have breached vote discipline regularly. This finding goes against the general assumption held in the literature that party dissent is non-existent in this parliament. Most studies have focused on the constitutional rules and have not analysed empirical data. Once we go beyond the constitutional framework and look at the parliamentary reality, the expression of party dissent becomes clear.

Last updated October 2009