Category Archives: Portugal

Portugal – President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa: hyperactive and omnipresent in uncertain times

On 16 June President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa marked his first 100 days in office. Rebelo de Sousa is a new kind of president: hyperactive and omnipresent. His relationship with Prime Minister Costa, leader of the Socialist Party (PS) is peaceful and co-operative. Who is President Rebelo de Sousa and why does the conservative president support a socialist government?

The 67-year old law professor Rebelo de Sousa is a centre-right politician. He was one of the founders of the Democratic People’s party (PPD), later renamed as the Social Democratic Party (PSD). Under Prime Minister Francisco Pinto Balsemão (PSD, 1981-1983), Rebelo de Sousa served as Secretary of State for the Presidency of the Council of Ministers (1981-1982) and Minister of Parliamentary Affairs (1982-1983). He was leader of the PSD party (1996-1999), and member of the Council of State (2000-2001, 2006-2016). In the presidential election, he was not an official candidate of PSD but stood as an independent. Unlike his predecessor Aníbal Cavaco Silva (PSD)[1], President Rebelo de Sousa known as ‘Professor Marcelo’ never held a top state position but gained widespread popularity thanks to his long years of work as a political commentator on television.

The new president, who claims to read two books a day and sleep no more than four-and-a-half hours a night, is considered to be ‘hyperactive’. Since his inauguration on 9 March, he has participated, reportedly, in no fewer than 250 initiatives, including seven state visits abroad. His speeches, statements and other kind of public appearances have received much media attention, which, allegedly, has contributed to his rising popularity. Critics believe that the President’s ‘omnipresence’ could put him on a collision course with Prime Minister Costa.

Compared with Cavaco Silva, the new president is closer to the people, cares less about protocol and acts more like a non-partisan president. “He [Cavaco Silva] just wasn’t present in the lives of the our citizens”, said Maria de Belém, the former acting leader of the PS. Marisa Matias of the Left Bloc said: “Cavaco [Silva] was a president who occupied himself with inaugurations in the intervals of his subservience to the ruling party, his own.”

Prime Minister Costa’s government consists solely of members of the PS but enjoys parliamentary support from the Left Bloc (BE), the Communist Party (PCP), and the Green Party (PEV). Underpinning this leftist alliance – together they control 122 seats in Portugal’s 230-seat National Parliament – is a 138-page compromise agreement between the four parties aimed at gradually winding back the austerity measures adopted by the Passos Coelho government. Yet, government decisions are ultimately subject to the approval of the BE, PCP and PEV. Policy is thus the outcome of ad-hoc agreements between the government and their parliamentary coalition partners.

Despite the fact that the President and Prime Minister are from opposing political forces, institutional conflict has been largely absent in Portugal because, firstly, President Rebelo de Sousa supports the current government in order to encourage political stability. In his presidential victory speech, he called for consensus between political parties to “heal the wounds” of the political crisis.[2] “I won’t create any problem, any instability, any criticism of government action. I will try to keep the basis of support for the government intact.” True to his word, the President approved the 2016 anti-austerity budget and promulgated the 35-hour working week law for civil servants[3], despite the fact that the Popular Party (CDS-PP) and PSD had voted against both laws. The President vetoed the surrogacy law. Another reason why ‘intra-executive conflict’ has been largely absent is because the President and Prime Minister are close personal friends, which, most probably, has facilitated peaceful institutional cooperation.

President Rebelo de Sousa knows he plays a critical role in fostering political stability. His hyperactivity is one symptom of this. The president has the power to dissolve parliament when, for instance, decision-making is paralysed due to interparty conflicts. This scenario is not unlikely to unfold in reality. The socialists and communists have a long history of intense hostility, which prevented them from forming a left-wing coalition government. In particular, EU related issues could generate friction between the pro-EU government and its “anti-European” allies. The leftist alliance is the first since the birth of democratic Portugal four decades ago.

[1] Former President Aníbal Cavaco Silva was Prime Minister from 1985-1995.

[2] In October 2015, Portugal was plunged into crisis following inconclusive parliamentary elections. The centre-right coalition of PM Pedro Passos Coelho (PSD) won the most votes in the 2015 parliamentary elections but lost the absolute majority it had enjoyed since 2011. Passos Coelho formed a centre-right minority government, but was forced to resign after parliament passed a censure motion.

[3] The law reduces the length of a working week for civil servants from 40 to 35 hours.

Pedro C. Magalhães – The Portuguese presidential elections of 2016 (or a tough day for party politics)

This is a guest post by Pedro C. Magalhães, Researcher at the Institute of Social Sciences of the University of Lisbon, Portugal


Last Sunday, Portugal elected the fifth president of its democratic Third Republic. Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, 67 years old, is a professor of constitutional law and a long time member of the center-right PSD, over which he presided in the late 1990s. However, he’s probably best known among the general public as a political pundit, after having held a weekly political commentary show for many years, first on the radio (in the early 1990s) and then on the TV (since 2000). Endorsed in the election by his own party and by the CDS (a smaller party on the right), he got 52% of the vote (about 2.4 million votes), thus dispensing with a second round.

Turnout was 48.8%. Although slightly above the 2011 elections, this a low figure. First, presidential elections such as this one, where the president does not run (there is a two term limit), typically have higher turnout levels (70% on average since 1976), in contrast with the less competitive cases when the incumbent president runs (60% on average since 1976, 46.5% in the last such election, in 2011). 48.8% this means means it was the lowest turnout ever recorded for an election without the incumbent running. Second, turnout was also low from a comparative point of view. If we start from a list of European semi-presidential systems and look for the turnout rates in the most recent presidential elections held there (from IDEA’s Voter Turnout website), we see that Portugal’s turnout rates have been very low recently. The 2016 rate, although an improvement over 2011, still ranks among the lowest in these countries’ recent elections (see Figure 1). In other words, there is a clear mismatch between the important powers enjoyed by the Portuguese president —including, among others, the discretionary ability to dissolve parliament, appoint the Prime Minister, veto legislation and refer bills and laws to the Constitutional Court — and the level of electoral mobilization reached in recent elections.


Part of the explanation may be structural, as turnout has been decreasing throughout in Portugal both in legislative and European elections. However, some specificities of the election may also account for this. Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa presented a campaign budget of 157.000 euros (170.000 US dollars, 119.000 British pounds), a ridiculously small amount. Contrary to common practice, there were no campaign billboards or posters of him to be seen across the country. That a candidate can win a presidential election without any major conventional mobilization efforts is interesting and deserves attention. Part of the explanation is that Rebelo de Sousa started out with a stratospheric advantage over all other nine candidates in terms of public notoriety, fed by a decade and a half of television appearances and reinforced by discrete year-long ground efforts near local chapters of the PSD. For him, “lowering the heat” to the bare minimum was clearly the preferable strategy, decreasing the salience of the campaign and thus making it as hard as possible for his opponents to overcome their notoriety gap. Besides, he also understood quite soon that he was not the preferred candidate of his own party’s leadership. The PSD continued throughout most of 2015 to toy around with the possibility of endorsing Rui Rio (former mayor of Oporto) or even Durão Barroso (former EU Commission President). Thus, Marcelo had to impose himself to his own party. This he ultimately achieved, after all potential opponents withdrew. But he still could not count with the mobilization efforts of the PSD party machine, and he knew it.

After having meticulously distanced himself from the PSD/CDS center-right cabinet in his political commentaries throughout the last year, he also proceeded to make himself as palatable as possible to the centrist and even center-left electorate. After the tense and polarized political environment that followed the October 2015 legislative elections — which included the fall of a new short-lived minority PSD-CDS government and its replacement by a PS minority cabinet supported in parliament by the Left Bloc and the Communist Party — Rebelo de Sousa avoided taking strong stances on almost all of the issues raised during those last months, refusing to commit to any systematic opposition to the left-wing government and presenting himself as a moderate president aiming at “reconciliation”. “I am the left of the right”, he said. If pre-election polls are to be trusted in this regard, he did manage to broaden his appeal to a segment of the leftist electorate, while remaining hegemonic among PSD and CDS voters. The latter were probably too concerned with the possibility of ending up with a left-wing president alongside the current left-wing government to care about Marcelo’s unwillingness to cater to their disappointment with recent political developments. It is true that, as he started dropping in the polls (from about 62% in late December to 53% in the last week of the campaign), some feared that his moderation and his effort at “lowering the heat” of the campaign would end up in a failure to mobilize his support base and avoid a second round. But these fears were unjustified.

The Socialist Party (PS) ended up not officially endorsing any candidate, and the party cadres divided their support between Sampaio da Nóvoa (a left-wing independent and former Rector of the University of Lisbon) and Maria de Belém (a former Socialist minister). Together, they got no more than 27% of the vote, about 1.25 million votes, five percentage points and almost 500.000 votes below the (already disappointing) result of the Socialists in the October 2015 election. Belém’s result (4.2%) was particularly catastrophic, and certainly not alien to a controversy in the late campaign about her opposition to the withdrawal of a life-time subsidy for MP’s. However, her lag vis-à-vis Sampaio da Nóvoa had started earlier, and in a sense also seems to be linked to the general theme in this campaign: while Rebelo de Sousa became president regardless of his own party, “party” did next to nothing for Belém, with many Socialist voters turning their hopes instead in the direction of the independent Sampaio da Nóvoa. A 27% aggregate result is worrying for the Socialists. However, it is also a reflection of Rebelo de Sousa’s “long campaign” strategy: becoming a seemingly unbeatable favorite from early on, he conditioned everybody else’s response, including the PS’s. The Socialists failed to find a single strong candidate willing to challenge Marcelo and ended up with two people that, regardless of their personal merits, are political lightweights. One thing could have seriously derailed Marcelo’s strategy and its repercussions to the overall campaign: if former Socialist PM António Guterres, currently UN High Commissioner for Refugees, had decided to jump into the fray. But Guterres seems instead interested in a candidacy for UN Secretary General and, if that fails, there are interesting and highly prestigious non-political jobs waiting for him back in Portugal.

Finally, a note about the performance of the candidates supported by the Left Bloc (BE) and the Communist Party (PCP). Marisa Matias, from the BE, got about 10% of the vote. That’s 460.000 votes, merely 30.000 below the score of the BE in October (in a more participated election) and 170.000 more than the best BE presidential candidate ever. This contrasts starkly with the abysmal performance of the Communist Party candidate, Edgar Silva, a virtually unknown former priest: 4% of the vote, the worst result ever by a candidate endorsed by the PCP. This result confirms and expands that of the 2015 legislative elections, where the BE clearly surpassed the Communists. Whether this means that the BE will be finally able to overcome the past volatility of its electoral base and definitely replace the Communist as the main party to the left of the PS remains to be seen, but this is clearly the most dangerous threat to Communists’ role in the political system that the party — the oldest, best organized, and most socially rooted in Portugal — has ever faced. That the survival of the Socialist minority cabinet depends on both the PCP and the BE adds additional uncertainty about how the response of the former to this threat will affect cabinet stability.

In his victory speech, president-elect Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa talked about “national unity”, “social cohesion” and the need to address “social injustices that the crisis has increased, but without endangering financial solidity”. This may sound like a bunch of generalities spoken by a powerless figurehead president, pleasing all sides and alienating nobody. Generalities they may be, but Portuguese presidents have never been powerless or irrelevant. Nor have they been particularly predictable. In 1990, by the end of Mário Soares first term as president, people debated whether it still made sense to popularly elect a President what had turned into a sort of “Queen of England”. But in his second term, Soares quickly proceeded to become the main source of opposition to the government and, since his tenure, more than one cabinet was led to its demise with the active collaboration of a president.

So it is wise not to make any rash judgments on the basis of this victory speech. It is true that, like others before him, the new president will be constrained by the so far irresistible lure of reelection five years from now (all previous Portuguese presidents successfully went for a second term). In the past, this has helped keeping first term presidents in check, forcing them to aim at the median voter and at the fulfillment of the most general expectation seem to have Portuguese have of the presidency: that it should be a vigilant but mostly neutral and impartial arbiter of politics. However, facing a minority cabinet, and with the present level of political, financial and economic uncertainty in Portugal, playing that relatively modest role may become difficult for the new president. At the very least, whenever Rebelo de Sousa needs and wants to act, he can do so as one of the least politically constrained presidents Portugal ever had, having imposed himself on his party, being elected with little help from it, and having no favors from campaign funders he has to pay back. So what kind of president will he be? Unfortunately, now we won’t have Marcelo the pundit speculating about Marcelo the President. Or will we? Even that is unpredictable.

Happy New Year? Christmas and New Year’s addresses by European presidents for 2016

In the first blog post of 2015, I explored the origins of and various customs and conventions surrounding the Christmas and New Year’s addresses by European heads of state. This year, I will look more closely at the content of these speeches (although focussing – for the sake of brevity – only on presidents, i.e. non-hereditary heads of state this time).

Finnish Niinistö records his New Year's speech for 2016 | photo (c) Office of the President of the Republic of Finland 2016

Finnish president Sauli Niinistö records his New Year’s speech for 2016 | (c) Office of the President of the Republic of Finland 2016

As I noted in my post last year, Christmas and New Year’s addresses rarely rarely belong to the most important political speeches in European democracies and often include a short summary of the last year’s events in the country. Common themes (apart from holiday wishes) are relatively rare. This year, however, many presidents directly addressed the refugee crisis in Europe. The presidents of Austria and Germany who have had to deal with extraordinary refugee streams both called for compassion and tried to strengthen the ‘can do’-spirit that has so far characterised the reactions of Federal Chancellors’ Merkel and Faynmann and volunteers in both countries. Presidents of other countries hit by the surge of refugees did not address the issue so clearly. Hungarian president Ader referred to it among other unexpected events of 2015, while the Slovenian and Croatian presidents Pahor and Grabar-Kitarović in their – significantly shorter seasons’ greetings – did not raise the issue at all apart from vague references to difficulties.

The refugee crisis featured more prominently on the other hand in the speeches of Slovak president Kiska and Czech president Zeman – yet taking almost diametrically opposed positions. Kiska largely downplayed the issue stating Slovakia was much less affected than other countries and the issue should not dominate the national agenda. Zeman on the other hand, called the influx of refugees as “an organized invasion” and called for young male refugees to return to their country to fight ISIS. Given Zeman’s previous statements this is hardly surprising, yet it is generally unusual for a Christmas message to include such controversial material. The refugee crisis also took centre stage in speeches by Finnish president Niinistö as he justified the steps taken by the government to limit the number of people receiving help.

Another theme in presidential speeches were national tragedies and the security. The Paris attacks featured strongly in French president Hollande’s speech, so did the Germanwing air crash in German president Gauck’s Christmas message. The ongoing Ukrainian crisis and potential conflict with Russia as well as the war in Syria were included in a number of speeches. Yet presidents also focussed on the economic situation and way of the recession – most prominently included in the messages of the presidents of Greece, Portugal and Iceland. The latter’s speech was however mostly reported on due to the fact that president Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson announced that he would not run for a sixth term as president.

Overall, this once again highlights that presidential Christmas and New Year’s addresses can be important indicators of the political situation or the importance of particular events throughout the year. Until now, there has nevertheless been only very limited academic research on presidential statements on these occasions. So far, I could only find an analysis of the role of religion in new year’s addresses by Swiss Federal Presidents – showing an overall decline in biblical references throughout the years. [1] In most European republics appear to follow this trend – explicit biblical references beyond a mere reference to the holiday can only be found in the speeches of the presidents of Malta and Hungary.

Christmas - NY presidents 2016 + Wulff 2011

From top left to bottom right: Presidents Higgins (Ireland), Duda (Poland), Wulff (Germany; 2011), Coleiro Preca (Malta), Iohannis (Romania).

Last but not least (and partly inspired by the DailyMail’s analysis of the photographs on Queen Elizabeth II’s desk), I think it is worth looking at the setting of presidents’ speeches. Where speeches are broadcast on TV (or recorded and then put on youtube), the setting is surprisingly similar with the president usually sitting or standing in front of flags or a fireplace. In Germany, this set-up had so much become the norm that Christian Wulff’s walking speech among a group of surprisingly diverse citizens (see centre image of above collage) caused great excitement among editors trying to fill the seasonal news slump. More unusual however was Swiss Federal President Adolf Ogi’s address of 2000 – he stood in front of a railway tunnel (watch the video here).

[1] Kley, Andreas (2008). ‘”Und der Herrgott, Herr Bundespräsident?” Zivilreligion in den Neujahrsansprachen der schweizerischen Bundespräsidenten’. In: Kraus, Dieter et al. Schweizerisches Jahrbuch für Kirchenrecht. Bern, Switzerland, 11-56.

A list with links to the 2015/2016 speeches can be downloaded here.

Carlos Jalali – The President’s Role in Government Formation in Portugal: Is Discretion the Better Part of Power?

The October 2015 legislative elections in Portugal have raised the prospect of a significant change in the Portuguese party system. As Lydia Beuman noted in her election report, the election results have raised the prospect of an unprecedented entente between the Socialist Party (Partido Socialista, PS) and the parties to its left, the Portuguese Communist Party (Partido Comunista Português, PCP) and the Left Bloc (Bloco de Esquerda, BE), to form a left-wing government. At the time of writing, the negotiations between the left-wing parties are virtually complete, with the Socialists and Left Bloc approving the deal, and the Communist Party’s Central Committee deciding on it today.

The prospect of a left-wing government has also generated substantial interest in the powers of the Portuguese president with regard to government formation. Since the short-lived (and ultimately failed) attempt by President Eanes to appoint presidential-inspired governments that circumvented the political parties in 1978-79, the president’s power of appointment of prime ministers has been largely disregarded. Indeed, presidential practice since then has been to appoint as prime minister the leader of the most voted party or list, and all of these PMs then saw their governments successfully invested by parliament. This pattern may explain why Siaroff (2003) classified the Portuguese president as not having discretionary appointment powers since the 1982 constitutional revision. However, as we shall see next, the Portuguese constitution grants considerable discretionary power to the president with regard to the appointment of a prime minister.

So what is the process of government formation in Portugal? The constitution stipulates that “The President of the Republic shall appoint the Prime Minister after consulting the parties with seats in the Assembly of the Republic and in light of the electoral results” (article 187, no. 1). This Prime Minister, as formateur, then proposes a government to the President, who appoints the rest of the cabinet: “The President of the Republic shall appoint the remaining members of the Government upon a proposal from the Prime Minister” (article 187, no. 2).

Government formation follows a standard two-stage process. Thus, once the first stage of government appointment is concluded, this new executive must obtain investiture by parliament. The parliamentary investiture regime is characterised by Cheibub, Martin & Rasch (2015) as a weak one, being reactive, ex post and requiring a negative majority to topple the government. In terms of constitutional conditions, this second stage requires that:

– “Within at most ten days of its appointment, the Government shall submit its Programme to the Assembly of the Republic for consideration, by means of a Prime Ministerial statement” (article 192, no. 1);

– “The debate shall not last for more than three days, and until it is closed, any parliamentary group may make a motion rejecting the Programme, and the Government may request the passage of a confidence motion.” (article 192, no. 2); and

– “Rejection of the Government’s Programme shall require an absolute majority of all the Members in full exercise of their office” (article 192, no. 3).

If a government programme is rejected by parliament, the entire process of government formation is started anew.

As can be gleaned from the constitutional provisions, the president has considerable discretion in terms of appointing a prime minister. While the constitution states that he must do so “in light of the electoral results”, this proviso does not remove presidential leeway. The process of government formation in the aftermath of the 2015 legislative elections bears this reading out.

Having met with all the parties with seats in Parliament, President Cavaco Silva formally appointed the outgoing prime minister and leader of the centre-right Social Democrat Party (PSD), Pedro Passos Coelho, as prime minister on October 22nd. This appointment took place even though the leaders of the left-wing parties (which together have a parliamentary majority) all announced they would reject this government, stating their preference for the appointment of the leader of the Socialist Party as prime minister.

The Passos Coelho government will have its programme discussed in parliament this Monday and Tuesday (November 10th and 11th). Barring a last minute coup de théâtre, such as the rejection of the deal with the PS by the Communist Party’s Central Committee or a rebellion by Socialist backbenchers (both highly unlikely scenarios), this government is set to fail its investiture by parliament. This will trigger the automatic resignation of the government (article 195, no. 1(d) of the Constitution: “The Government shall resign upon rejection of the Government’s Programme”). The process of government formation will then be restarted.

The uncertainty associated to this forthcoming ‘second stab’ at government formation again highlights the president’s discretion over appointing a prime minister. Rumours have emerged in the press that President Cavaco Silva may opt not to appoint the leader of the Socialist Party as prime minister, preferring instead to have a caretaker government until fresh elections can be called (parliament can be dissolved in approximately six months, as the constitution precludes dissolutions in the initial six months after a legislative election – article 172[i]).

The veracity of these rumours is at best uncertain: Cavaco Silva has always been a very guarded politician, and his circumspection is unlikely to have faded in this final (and quite likely most significant) act of his political career. Moreover, judging from the debate this prospect has generated, such an option would not be very popular on the right either. However, the fact that the possibility of President Cavaco Silva not appointing the leader of the PS as prime minister exists (and is being discussed) is in itself a reflection of the degree of presidential discretion over prime ministerial appointment in Portugal.

[i] There has been much talk in Portugal that the current political impasse is facilitated by the fact that President Cavaco Silva is in the final six months of his term of office (which ends in March 2016), when a president is precluded from dissolving parliament (also in article 172). However, even if the President were not in his final six months, fresh elections would still only take place in April/May 2016, because of dissolution is barred in the first six months after a parliamentary election.

Carlos Jalali (D.Phil., University of Oxford, UK) is Assistant Professor at the University of Aveiro, Portugal, and is currently a visiting scholar at Brown University, US. His research is on Portuguese political institutions, parties and electoral behaviour, published in Party Politics, South European Society and Politics and Journal of Political Marketing, among others.

Portugal – Parliamentary elections: ruling coalition wins but loses majority in parliament

On 4 October parliamentary elections were held in Portugal. No coalition or party managed to win an outright majority in the ballot. Both the ruling centre-right coalition and the main opposition party lost seats in parliament. Together, they won around 70 per cent of the vote but refuse to govern together. The formation of another central bloc is thus unlikely.[1]

Portugal’s single chamber parliament is elected for a four-year term and its 230 seats are allocated according to the D’Hondt formula. The ruling ‘Portugal Ahead’ coalition formed by the Social Democrats (PSD) and Christian Democrats (CDS-PP) won 104 seats, 12 seats short of an absolute majority in parliament. The Socialists (PS) moved up from 74 seats to 85, while the Left Bloc (BE) claimed a record 19 seats and the Communists (CDU) elected 17. The Party for People, Animals and Nature (PAN) makes its debut in Parliament after electing one MP. The turnout set a new record low of 56.9 per cent of the registered voters.

The Constitution gives the president the power to appoint the government formateur, which in Portugal is the prime minister. President Cavaco Silva has allocated this responsibility to Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho, leader of the most voted party PSD, a move which the Socialists denounced as ‘extemporaneous’. Meanwhile, the PS has started negotiations with the Left Bloc and the Communists in an attempt to form a majority coalition.

Minority or majority government?

If the leftist parties manage to form a majority coalition, it would become the first leftist government in the history of democratic Portugal. The parties BE and CDU have never been included in any government since 1976. Such a scenario would clearly pose a dilemma for President Cavaco Silva who prefers a centre-right government led by his (former) party PSD. The President’s rapid decision to nominate PM Passos Coelho as government formateur is only one example of this.

A minority centre-right coalition would only be viable if it reaches an agreement with the Socialists regarding the 2016 state budget. Political instability looms in the case that the PS rejects the budget. Worse still, the President cannot resolve the political impasse. The Constitution not only prevents the president from dissolving parliament in the last six months of a presidential term, it also states that parliament cannot be dismissed during the first six months after parliamentary elections.

Presidential elections are scheduled for January 2016. According to opinion polls PSD candidate and university professor Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa is most likely to become President Cavaco Silva’s successor. The new president can only dissolve parliament and call for fresh elections by April 2016.

[1] Central Bloc (Portuguese: Bloco Central) is the name given in Portugal to the grand coalition PS and PSD which ruled from 1983 to 1985.

Portugal – Changing electoral politics

In the run up to the legislative and presidential elections the ruling parties PSD and CDS-PP have announced the formation of a pre-electoral coalition and decided to jointly support a presidential candidate. Moreover, a growing number of non-partisans or ‘outsiders’ have officially declared their candidacy for the 2016 presidential election. Both pre-electoral coalitions and large numbers of non-partisan presidential candidates are rare political phenomena in Portugal.

It has been 36 years ago since a pre-electoral coalition was formed in Portugal. In 1979 the PSD and CDS (the former CDS-PP) together with the smaller pro-monarchist party, the PPM, formed the so-called Democratic Alliance (AD) that managed to win a parliamentary majority, namely 128 seats in Portugal’s 250-member Assembly in the December 1979 legislative elections.

The announcement of the pre-electoral centre-right coalition or ‘new AD’ came on 25 April, four days after António Costa, leader of the Socialist Party (PS), presented his party’s electoral programme. The coalition’s fear of losing the legislative election is real. The Eurosondagem poll, published on 15 May gave the Socialists a 4.5 point lead over the newly formed coalition with 38.1 percent to 33.6 per cent. It is important to note that if this neck and neck race persists none of the two will obtain a parliamentary majority, a situation which may call for President Cavaco Silva to take on a powerful role in the government formation process.

The leaders of the ruling parties, PM Pedro Passos Coelho (PSD) and deputy PM Paulo Portas (CDS-PP), also agreed to jointly support a presidential candidate. The coalition will likely select either the former leader of the PSD and Law Professor Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, or the former mayor of the city of Porto, Rui Rio, also a prominent member of the PSD party. President Cavaco Silva is constitutionally prohibited from running for a third term. The coalition has decided to select their candidate after the legislative elections.

The coalition’s presidential candidate will face a large number of non-partisan presidential candidates. It has been predicted that the upcoming presidential election will be the most competitive since the first democratic elections took place in 1976. So far, no fewer than five[1] non-partisan presidents have officially announced their candidacy for the presidency. Yet, the Constitutional Court ultimately determines which candidates are eligible to participate in the presidential election.

António Sampaio da Nóvoa, the former rector of the University of Lisbon, is considered to be the most popular amongst the non-partisan candidates and has the support of former presidents António Ramalho Eanes (Ind.) and Mário Soares (PS). If Sampaio da Nóvoa is elected, presidential politics may change. He recently stated that the role of the president ‘should not be ceremonial’ and pledged to combat political corruption and put an end to austerity.

Parliamentary elections will be held between 14 September and 14 October 2015. Presidential elections are scheduled for January 2016.

[1] Henrique Neto, Castanheira Barros, Paulo Freitas do Amaral, Paulo Morais, António Sampaio da Nóvoa.

…and a happy New Year! Christmas and New Year’s addresses by European heads of state

Every year millions of Britons gather in front of their ‘tellies’ to watch the Queen’s annual Christmas message. This year, over 7.8m viewers saw and heard her speak on the topic of reconciliation in the light of the WW I centenary and were delighted by references to her visit to the set of ‘Games of Thrones’, making it the UK’s Christmas TV highlight (it attracted 1.5m more viewers than the ‘Doctor Who’ Christmas special and 2m more viewers than the Christmas episode of the period drama ‘Downtown Abbey’). Given that this blog deals with presidents, i.e. non-hereditary heads of state, writing about the Queen’s Christmas message might be peculiar for some readers. Nevertheless, the tradition of addressing the nation has – in the European context – first been documented for monarchs, with presidents continuing this tradition.

Queen Elizabeth's (left) Royal Christmas Message is one the most watched Christmas address by a head of state worldwide; German president Gauck (right) is one of only two presidents in Europe to deliver his holiday address on Christmas.

Queen Elizabeth’s (left) Royal Christmas Message is one the most watched Christmas addresses by a head of state worldwide; German president Gauck (right) is one of only three presidents in Europe to deliver his holiday address on Christmas Day.

British monarchs have only addressed the nation at Christmas since 1932 (on proposal of the BBC’s founding director). Earlier examples of public addresses to the nation on the occasion of Christmas or the New Year have been documented for Kings of Denmark and the German Emperor since the late 19th century. Starting with general well-wishes for the New Year and/or Christmas, holiday addresses have now developed into more elaborate speeches which are designed to reach a wide audience. Apart from general remarks about the holiday season and a short review of the last year, heads of state also often highlight specific themes in their message. Thereby, the degree to which the content is ‘political’ tends to vary with the constitutional position of the head of state. In the European monarchies the content is often coordinated with the government (although much this process – like so many interactions between constitutional monarchs and elected representatives – remains shrouded in secrecy) and themes or highlights tend to be rather uncontroversial. Likewise, indirectly elected presidents – with some exceptions – only rarely include strong political statements or use speeches to express entirely new opinions. In Switzerland, New Year’s Day coincides with the inauguration of a new Federal President (the head of the collegial executive), so that the president’s New Year’s Address is simultaneously an inaugural address and does not necessarily follow this pattern. Popularly elected presidents are generally more likely to use this annual tradition to talk about (specific) policy. For instance, French president Francois Hollande spoke about economic reforms (several of which take effect 1 January 2015) and Cypriot president Nikos Anastasiadis outlined plans for modernisation of the state.


Apart from this divide, a less relevant albeit interesting division between presidents and monarchs appears in Europe. Apart from Germany, the Czech Republic and Malta, presidents address the nation on New Year’s Eve/New Year’s Day (the Irish president provides a combined message), while the majority of monarchs (with Norway, Denmark and Monaco being the exception) deliver their message on Christmas Day. Hereby, it needs to be noted that German presidents until 1970 delivered their speech on New Year’s Day (which means they switched with the Chancellor). Czech presidents also gave New Year’s addresses until president Zeman returned to the pre-1949 tradition of delivering his speech at Christmas after his inauguration in 2013. I have tried to find reasons for the divide between presidents and monarchs, yet have not found any palpable evidence. Monarchs’ tendency to deliver Christmas messages might be related to their role in national churches (although this does not explain the Danish and Norwegian exceptions). Presidents on the other hand, deliver messages on the relatively world-view-‘neutral’ New Year’s Eve/Day. In Central and Eastern Europe, Communist leaders naturally avoided giving speeches on or related to Christmas Day. After the fall of Communism, this tradition was retained by the new democratic leaders. The Lithuanian and Romanian president form the general exception from all other European heads of state. While both issue short press statements to wish their citizens a happy Christmas and New Year, neither gives a specific speech. The Prince of Liechtenstein does not even that.

Although Christmas and New Year’s messages rarely belong to the most important political speeches in European democracies. Nevertheless, they reflect – although in varying degrees – not only the institutional arrangements of European democracies. Furthermore, they shed light on how political traditions develop (be it formally or informally) and can carry on from one regime to another (monarchy to republic; autocracy to democracy).

A list with links to this year’s Christmas and New Year’s Addresses can be found here (if available the link is to an English version) –> Links to speeches 2014-2015
Should you know more about the history and practice of Chrismas/New Year’s messages by heads of state in the countries discussed above, please let us know in the comment section below.

Portugal – President Cavaco Silva’s “deafening silence”

“What use is a President who neither speaks nor acts?” This question was raised by Mário Soares, founder of the Socialist Party (SP) and former Prime Minister (1976-1978, 1983-1985) and President (1986-1996) of Portugal. Now, though, members of opposition parties are accusing President Cavaco Silva, former member of the Social Democratic Party (PSD), of acting like the president of the PSD party and not as a president of all the Portuguese.

In Portugal it is common practice that a president-elect gives up his/her party membership before assuming office.[1] So, Portuguese presidents are formally non-partisan. Yet, President Cavaco Silva’s “non-partisanship” has been subject of much discussion. Critics have accused the President of being silent about a number of key issues and interpret his inactivity as a form of political support for the government headed by Prime Minister Passos Coelho, leader of the PSD party to which he belonged.

In September 2014 the Ministry of Education made an error which led to the incorrect allocation of 880 teachers to secondary schools. The direct consequence was that thousands of pupils throughout Portugal were without teachers for over a month. Only after criticism in the media about the President’s silence on the issue did Cavaco Silva call for “serious reflection” about the teacher allocation model.

In the same month the “Citius” computer system used by the Ministry of Justice failed to become operational, leading to a partial paralysis of the country’s Court system for one and a half months. The SP demanded the resignation of the Minister of Justice, Paula Teixeira da Cruz (PSD). The leader of the new Democratic Republican Party (PRD) and Member of the European Parliament, António Marinho e Pinto, condemned the President’s “deafening silence”, accusing him of behaving more like the president of the Social Democratic Party (PSD) than as a president of all Portuguese citizens.

On 17 November Interior Minister Miguel Macedo stepped down over an investigation into alleged corruption linked to the issuing of so-called “golden visas” to wealthy foreigners. Macedo became the fourth minister to resign in the centre-right PSD-CDS-PP coalition government since it took office in June 2011. In 2013, the “Annus Horribilis” for Prime Minister Passos Coelho, no fewer than three ministers resigned: the Minister of Parliamentary Affairs, Miguel Relvas (PSD), the Minister of Finance, Vítor Gaspar (independent), and the Minister of Economy, Álvaro Santos Pereira (PSD). The latter did not ask for his resignation but was replaced by António Pires de Lima (CDS-PP) in a cabinet reshuffle in 24 July 2013.

The resignation of the Interior Minister Macedo led the opposition to ask for a cabinet reshuffle. Yet, Macedo was replaced by Anabela Rodrigues (again, an independent), the first female Interior Minister of Portugal. So far, the President has refrained from commenting on the corruption scandal that allegedly involves the head of Portugal’s border agency and the president of the registration and notary institute.

The Constitution states that a president cannot dissolve parliament during the first six months after a parliamentary election. In other words, snap elections would deprive the president of this power at an earlier stage. President Cavaco Silva has not called for early elections. On 8 November he announced that parliamentary elections are to be held between 14 September and 14 October 2015.

[1] Novais, J. R. (2007) Semipresidencialismo. Coimbra: Edições Almedina

Paulo José Canelas Rapaz – Portugal, the president, and open primaries for the prime minister candidate

This is a guest post by Paulo José Canelas Rapaz

 Paulo José Canelas Rapaz

President Aníbal Cavaco Silva’s Republic Day Speech and the Socialist Party Primaries

On 5 October, Portugal’s Republic Day, President Aníbal Cavaco Silva gave a speech. Similar to previous presidents, Cavaco Silva reflected on “Republican values” (in a very French sense) and the country’s institutions, calling for political and party system reform.

Even if he was not the first to make such a call, President Cavaco Silva’s diagnosis was considered grim and somewhat pessimistic. He referred to people’s distrust in politics, parties and political personnel in particular. He heavily criticized partisan careerism and the parties’ lack of rejuvenation, as well as their preference for political skirmishing and short-term gains at the expense of “common good”. His proposals were as familiar as his diagnosis: a change in electoral law to make it easier to form a parliamentary majority and to increase proximity/accountability of elected representatives, a better higher administration and statutes governing elected representatives so as to attract new talents and avoid incentives for corruption, conflicts of interest or shadowy means of party financing. Finally and above all, he called for a change in politicians’ behaviour so that a “much needed consensus” in relation to Portugal’s difficulties could be built.

Despite pundits’ comments and President Cavaco Silva’s own preference for more discreet stances and backstage action, there is a sense that “nothing new under the sun” in this speech. President Cavaco Silva himself has made many calls for political consensus on public policies and the reform of the political system and has made similar criticisms of Portuguese political life. Indeed, similar calls were made by his predecessors both on specific topics and more generally, e.g. former President Jorge Sampaio (1996-2006) and his Sermon on Politics (03/27/2001). Furthermore, political reform has been demanded by many sectors of civil society, but to little or avail. This is the case for the much discussed, but never implemented calls for electoral reform.

It is also possible to read the same speech as a function of its audience. The official ceremonies of Republic Day usually take place at Lisbon Town Hall – where the Portuguese Republic was proclaimed in 1910 – the Mayor being present, currently António Costa, the new leader of the Socialist Party. Cavaco Silva’s speech might be read as an indirect message to António Costa. The president’s call for political consensus might be interpreted as a warning yo Costa, who has professed less orthodox views on economic policies and who seems more open to political alliances with leftist parties after the next general elections in 2015.

The presence of António Costa at the speech was also important for another reason. He became the leader of his party not by winning a congress like his predecessors, but through an “open primary” where socialist militants and sympathisers voted for a “Prime Minister candidate”. It was a first in Portuguese politics. It means that even if António Costa wins the party’s general secretariat during this December congress, the positions of party leader and general secretary are now dissociated, and maybe the latter is subordinate to the former. Furthermore, even if it is not known whether “open primaries” will be renewed or extended to other parties – as was the direct election of major-party leaders by militants instead of congress delegates in the 2000s – the implementation of “open primaries” has deep consequences for the political system, which the President might not be happy with.

The Portuguese Constitution implements a clear separation between the President and the Government, between the Presidential function, dubbed a “moderating power” (its origin lies within the Benjamin Constant’s “neutral power”), and the executive. The sharpest separation is electoral: legislative elections are proportional and programmatic, the presidential election is individual and declarative. Every President, at least since Mário Soares (1986-1996), has stressed this peculiarity of the president’s legitimacy. The expression used is that the President is “the only personally elected constitutional institution” (“o único orgão de soberania unipessoal”). The President is outside the majority/opposition parliamentary dichotomy. This concept of presidential function is not the necessary result of the Constitution or of path dependence (the King had a “moderating power” between 1826 and 1910). Presidents have found that this way of thinking about their function grants themselves a political role and avoid the unknowns of parliamentary alternation and everyday politics. This non-executive and non-partisan President – making the concept of “cohabitation” inappropriate in Portugal – has its foundation in presidential legitimacy. Every Head of State since Mário Soares has said they are the “President of all Portuguese”; that is a traditional formula. But, also since Mário Soares, they have declared that “the presidential majority ends with the victory at the presidential election”. This is the only declaration of making the concept of the “President of all Portuguese” a reality.

This legitimacy, the president’s role as guarantor of “the regular functioning of democratic institutions” and its powers (veto, dissolution or cabinet dismissal), turns the Portuguese Head of State into a schmittian figure. This reference has to do with Carl Schmitt’s Der Hüter der Verfassung (1931), “the Guardian of Constitution”. It must be noted that, contrary to the idea of a “moderating power”, this conceptual analogy is rarely made, maybe due to Schmitt’s background. Notwithstanding this point, the Portugal’s “guardian of the Constitution” differs from Schmitt’s idea on an essential point: it does not act as a substitute for other institutions’, its functions are regulatory. However, as with the Reichpraesident in Schmitt’s view, the foundation of the president’s role in Portugal can be found in its direct, personal and encompassing legitimacy. For this reason, every Head of State has defended this legitimacy and fought against the “presidentialism of Prime Minister” and the idea that legislative elections serve to choose a PM. This was the case when Aníbal Cavaco Silva’ Social-Democratic Party twice won an absolute majority in the 1980s and 1990s, mostly due to his own popularity, prompting Mário Soares to become more active. It was also the case when President Jorge Sampaio reluctantly dissolved the parliament after PM António Guterres quit in 2001, or when President  Sampaio refused to call a general election after José Manuel Durão Barroso left for the EU Commission in 2004.

One might say that having “open primaries” to choose a “Prime Minister candidate” is a further step in the evolution of politics generally, not just in Portugal. The personalisation of electoral choice, the diminishing ideological differentiation between governing parties, media preferences for personal quarrels rather than programmatic controversies, and the functional decay of political parties. If they last, “open primaries” in Portuguese politics are nevertheless a major de facto political reform, independently from the “political reform” that everyone has been calling for. It even might create a disequilibrium, which might end in the, already precariously placed, “constantino-schmittian” President.

Paulo José Canelas Rapaz completed a PhD in Political Science on the Portuguese President and its protagonism within the Portuguese political institutions and public arena, at Université Panthéon-Assas-Paris II, in December 2012. Currently living in Lisbon, his personal research focuses on European Presidents.

Presidents and Paupers I: How much do Western European presidents earn?

Presidential salaries – particularly during and after the European financial crisis – have been a hotly debated topic in a number of European republics and several office holders have voluntarily taken a pay cut. Last year, I wrote two blog posts about the earnings of Western and Central and Eastern European presidents or my old blog ( which proved to be highly popular and generated some media attention. The posts which are reproduced here today and tomorrow try to answer the questions How much do presidents actually earn? Did the crisis have an impact on presidential salaries? And how do their earnings relate to other factors?

Austrian president Heinz Fischer is the highest paid president in Western Europe (if you do not count the Chairman of the Swiss Confederate Presidency) | photo by GuentherZ via wikimedia commons

Presidents’ absolute salaries in comparison

Given different regulations about salaries, lump sums and other benefits it is difficult to establish universally how much presidents actually earn. For this post I tried to ascertain (accurately, I hope) presidents’ yearly gross annual income exclusive of benefits. However, I decided to include so-called 13th/14th salaries as these are part of the taxable income and many presidents were either entitled to receive those or were recently deprived of them (see more under the penultimate subheading). Although the national gross average income would certainly be easier to interpret as a point of reference, I had chosen the 2012 GDP per capita for the sake of reliability. I was also not able to find reliable data for Cyprus (please leave a link in the comment section if you know a reliable source).

Western european presidents_absolute annual salary_presidentialactivism.com_

The bar chart shows that there is a huge variety in presidents’ salaries in Western Europe. The top-earner is the Swiss Federal President, i.e. the chairperson of the seven-person collegiate presidency that is elected ‘President of the Confederation’. Members of the Federal Council receive €360,358 annually, the president receives an additional €9,735 (i.e. 370,093 annually). The runner-up and top earner among the ‘normal’ presidents – the Swiss-type collegiate presidency is worldwide unique – is the Austrian president. Current incumbent Heinz Fischer receives a gross annual salary of €328,188 which consists of 12 regular monthly salaries + two additional monthly salaries (not benefits) of €23,442 each. George Abela, the president of Malta,, on the other hand earns the least with just €56,310 and thus almost six times less than the Austrian counterpart. The average presidential gross annual salary is €191,149, the average GDP per capita (2012) is €30,860. There are only few presidents who earn a similar absolute gross yearly salary, although this looks different for relative yearly salaries.

Setting earnings into perspective

Absolute numbers are always present a somewhat distorted image in cross-country comparisons, which is why it is good to set presidents’ gross annual income into perspective. As mentioned above, I use the respective country’s GDP per capita from 2012 as a point for comparison.

Western european presidents_relative annual salary

There is a lot of change of positions when comparing absolute and relative gross annual income. While the Maltese presidents is still the lowest paid democratically elected head of state in Europe with 350% of the GDP per capita, previous front-runner Switzerland is with 606% of the GDP/capita only 12 percentage points above the Western European average. Greek president Karolos Papoulisas – in absolute earnings rather on the lower end of the spectrum – now finds himself in third position as his annual gross salary is more than eight times more than the GDP per capita (and this even though his salary had already been halved last year – more on this below). The top-earners in relative terms are by far the presidents of Italy and  Austria. Their gross annual salary amounts to almost nine times more than the nominal GDP per capita.

Western european presidents_scatterplot

The correlation between GDP per capita and presidential salaries is surprisingly high (R=0.8) and Switzerland is the only real outlier. The plot also shows that Finnish president Niinistö earned less than one could have expected from the GDP per capita – even before his salary cut.

The crisis and its consequences

The crisis has certainly taken its toll on presidential salaries in Western Europe as several presidents experienced a pay cut or voluntarily cut their own salary. French president Hollande cut his salary by 30%, Irish president Higgins voluntarily waived 23.5% of his salary, Finnish president Niinistö waived 20%. In Greece, parliament cut the president’s salary by 50% (and abolished a €6,240/month  representational allowance) after president Papoulias had suggested it. Papoulias had previously already waived his salary for a whole year as well as his right to a 13th and 14th monthly salary. Cypriot president (who could not be included in this ranking because of missing data) also waived his additional monthly salaries and cut his salary by 25% after his predecessor had already seen a 20% salary cut.

On the other hand, German president Gauck and Austrian president Fischer recently saw an increase in their income. In 2012, Gauck’s gross yearly income went up from €199,000 to €217,000 while Fischer receives has a modest €411 more in his bank account every month since the beginning of this year (this increase also applies to his two additional monthly salaries so that overall the gross yearly income went up by €5,754). At least in the case of Germany, this increase should not be seen too controversial. The president’s earnings are still rather average (see also scatter plot above) and had not been increased for almost a decade (furthermore, the salary is indirectly tied to the income of federal clerks).

Powers and mode of election

With relation to presidential powers and the mode of presidential election, the results contrast those from Eastern Europe. Nevertheless, the absolute results depend on whether Switzerland is included or not. Directly elected presidents have a gross yearly income of €183,355 (573% of the GDP per capita), while indirectly elected presidents (Switzerland included) earn €202,061 (664%) and thus more in absolute and relative terms. However, if one excludes Switzerland (which might be sensible due to the exceptionalism of the Swiss collegiate presidency) the gross yearly income is only €160,511 (703% of GDP per capita) which in absolute numbers is less but significantly more in relative terms.

When it comes to the relationship between presidential powers (measures taken from Siaroff 2003) and presidential income the correlation is R=0.0002 and thus non-existent.

***Sources (click on the country names)***

This post first appeared on on 1 August 2013.