Election Resources on the Internet:
Elections to the Portuguese Assembly of the Republic
by Manuel Álvarez-Rivera
   

Portugal held a parliamentary election on Sunday, October 4, 2015. A description of the proportional representation system used since 1975 to elect members of the national unicameral legislature - the Assembleia da República or Assembly of the Republic - is presented here.

National- and district-level results are available here (and also in CSV format) for the following Assembly elections:

      October 4, 2015      
      June 5, 2011      
      September 27, 2009      
      February 20, 2005      
      March 17, 2002      
      October 10, 1999      
      October 1st, 1995      
      October 6, 1991      
      July 19, 1987      
      October 6, 1985      
      April 25, 1983      
      October 5, 1980      
      December 2, 1979      
      April 25, 1976      
      April 25, 1975      

The election statistics presented in this space come from official data files originally issued by the Secretariado Técnico dos Assuntos para o Processo Eleitoral (STAPE) of the Ministry of Domestic Affairs of Portugal, and results published on the Legislativas 2009, Legislativas 2011 and Legislativas 2015 websites. Note that these statistics do not include results in the election districts established for Portuguese voters residing abroad.

May 22-25, 2014 European election results are available here. In addition, Portugal's Directorate General of Internal Administration has detailed results in Portuguese of the 2014 European election in Portugal.


The Electoral System

The Parliament of the Portuguese Republic consists of a single chamber, the Assembleia da República or Assembly of the Republic, composed of 230 members directly elected by universal adult suffrage for a maximum term of four years. Assembly members represent the entire country, rather than the constituencies in which they were elected. Governments require majority support in the Assembly in order to remain in office.

Each one of Portugal's eighteen administrative districts, as well as each one of the country's two autonomous regions - the Açores (Azores) and Madeira - is an electoral constituency. Portuguese voters residing outside the national territory are grouped into two electoral constituencies - Europe and the rest of the world - each one of which elects two Assembly members. The remaining 226 seats are allocated among the national territory constituencies in proportion to their number of registered electors.

For the 2002, 2005 and 2009 legislative elections, Assembly seats were distributed in the following manner:

   Constituency       Seats   
        
  
         2002       2005       2009   
   Aveiro       15       15       16   
   Beja       3       3       3   
   Braga       18       18       19   
   Bragança       4       4       3   
   Castelo Branco       5       5       4   
   Coimbra       10       10       10   
   Évora       3       3       3   
   Faro       8       8       8   
   Guarda       4       4       4   
   Leiria       10       10       10   
   Lisboa       48       48       47   
   Portalegre       3       2       2   
   Porto       38       38       39   
   Santarém       10       10       10   
   Setúbal       17       17       17   
   Viana do Castelo       6       6       6   
   Vila Real       5       5       5   
   Viseu       9       9       9   
   Açores (Azores)       5       5       5   
   Madeira       5       6       6   
   Europe       2       2       2   
   Outside Europe       2       2       2   
   Total       230       230       230   

Political parties and party coalitions may present lists of candidates. The lists are closed, so electors may not choose individual candidates in or alter the order of such lists. Electors cast a ballot for a single list. The seats in each constituency are apportioned according to the largest average method of proportional representation (PR), conceived by the Belgian mathematician Victor d'Hondt in 1899. Although there is no statutory threshold for participation in the allocation of Assembly seats, the application of the d'Hondt rule introduces a de facto threshold at the constituency level.

Allocation of Assembly Seats

To illustrate the functioning of the system, the allocation of seats in the district of Santarém for the March 2002 legislative election is presented here in detail. In the election, the following lists contested the district's ten Assembly seats:

  • Partido Socialista (PS; Socialist Party)
  • CDU - Coligação Democrática Unitária (PCP-PEV; Portuguese Communist Party-The Greens Ecologist Party)
  • Partido Operário de Unidade Socialista (POUS; Socialist Unity Workers Party)
  • Movimento o Partido da Terra (MPT; Earth Party Movement)
  • Partido Humanista (P.H.; Humanist Party)
  • Partido Comunista dos Trabalhadores Portugueses (PCTP/MRPP; Portuguese Workers' Communist Party)
  • Partido Popular Monárquico (PPM; Popular Monarchist Party)
  • Partido Social Democrata (PPD/PSD; Social Democratic Party)
  • Bloco de Esquerda (B.E.; Left Bloc)
  • Partido Popular (CDS-PP; Popular Party)

To calculate the number of seats each list was entitled to receive, the votes polled by each of these were divided by 1, 2, 3, and so on until the number of seats to be allocated was reached, as detailed below:

   Division       PS       PPD/
PSD
      PCP-
PEV
      CDS-
PP
      B.E.       PCTP/
MRPP
      PPM       MPT       POUS       P.H.   
   1       93,168       92,551       20,727       20,392       6,763       1,453       901       610       583       502   
   2       46,584       46,275       10,363       10,196       3,381       726       450       305       291       251   
   3       31,056       30,850       6,909       6,797       2,254       484       300       203       194       167   
   4       23,292       23,137       5,181       5,098       1,690       363       225       152       145       125   
   5       18,633       18,510       4,145       4,078       1,352       290       180       122       116       100   
   6       15,528       15,425       3,454       3,398       1,127       242       150       101       97       83   
   7       13,309       13,221       2,961       2,913       966       207       128       87       83       71   
   8       11,646       11,568       2,590       2,549       845       181       112       76       72       62  
   9       10,352       10,283       2,303       2,265       751       161       100       67       64       55  
   10       9,316       9,255       2,072       2,039       676       145       90       61       58       50  
   Seats       4       4       1       1       0       0       0       0       0       0   

Seats were then awarded to the lists obtaining the largest quotients or averages (shown in bold). As indicated, the PS won four seats, the PPD/PSD four, the PCP-PEV one and the CDS-PP one. The seats won by each list were awarded to the candidates included therein, according to their ranking on the lists: therefore, the first four candidates on the PS list were elected to the Assembly, as were the first four candidates on the PPD/PSD list and the candidates at the top of the PCP-PEV and CDS-PP lists, respectively.

The apportionment of constituency seats can also be obtained by dividing the votes for each ticket by the smallest quotient used to allocate seats, disregarding the remainders. For the election in Santarém, the votes obtained by each list would be divided by the tenth largest average - 20,392 votes - with the following results:

 
PS:    93,168 

 20,392 
= 4 seats
 
PPD/PSD:    92,551 

 20,392 
= 4 seats
 
PCP-PEV:    20,727 

 20,392 
= 1 seat
 
CDS-PP:    20,392 

 20,392 
= 1 seat
 
B.E.:    6,763 

 20,392 
= 0 seats
 
PCTP/MRPP:    1,453 

 20,392 
= 0 seats
 
PPM:    901 

 20,392 
= 0 seats
 
MPT:    610 

 20,392 
= 0 seats
 
POUS:    583 

 20,392 
= 0 seats
 
and
 
P.H.:    502 

 20,392 
= 0 seats

As such, the smallest quotient used to allocate seats is also the effective representation threshold, that is the number of votes necessary to secure one seat. For the Santarém district, this threshold amounted to 8.4% of the vote.

The allocation of Assembly seats in Santarém shows that the lack of a statutory threshold is of little importance: since each constituency returns an average of ten seats, the effective representation threshold - the number of votes needed to secure a seat according to the application of the d'Hondt rule - becomes a significant barrier for participation in the proportional allocation of Assembly mandates.

For the 2002 legislative election, the allocation of Assembly seats by the largest average method produced the following effective thresholds:

   Constituency       Seats       Average Threshold   

Votes       %
   Aveiro       15       21,346       5.8   
   Beja       3       17,906       21.8   
   Braga       18       21,201       4.7   
   Bragança       4       15,018       17.7   
   Castelo Branco       5       18,383       15.4   
   Coimbra       10       19,186       8.2   
   Évora       3       19,823       21.8   
   Faro       8       17,525       9.4   
   Guarda       4       17,489       17.3   
   Leiria       10       20,225       8.5   
   Lisboa       48       22,036       1.9   
   Portalegre       3       15,501       22.6   
   Porto       38       22,736       2.4   
   Santarém       10       20,392       8.4   
   Setúbal       17       19,519       4.9   
   Viana do Castelo       6       16,373       11.8   
   Vila Real       5       20,315       15.9   
   Viseu       9       21,803       10.4   
   Açores (Azores)       5       13,578       15.1   
   Madeira       5       16,764       13.4   

The largest average method tends to favor the major parties, with greater intensity as the constituency size diminishes: the effective representation threshold, as a percentage of the total vote, increases as the number of seats to be allocated decreases. This tendency is compounded by the cumulative effect of the application of the d'Hondt rule over a substantial number of small-sized constituencies, albeit in a rather limited fashion: most Assembly members are elected in large or middle-sized constituencies, which guarantees a generally proportional outcome. Nevertheless, in the thirteen Assembly elections held since 1975, the top two lists - especially the majority list - have been consistently over-represented in the Assembly, while the smaller parties and coalitions have been - with some exceptions - slightly under-represented.

The Political Parties

Since the April 25, 1974 Carnation Revolution - in which a military uprising overthrew the right-wing authoritarian regime that had been in power since 1926 - Portugal has developed a party system centered around five major political forces: the Socialist Party (PS), the Social Democratic Party (PPD/PSD; originally the Popular Democratic Party), the Portuguese Communist Party (PCP), the Popular Party (CDS-PP; previously the Social Democratic Center Party) and - since 1999 - the Left Bloc (B.E.), an electoral coalition of three far-left parties.

Initially, this multi-party system did not foster governmental stability: between 1976 and 1987, there were no less than ten constitutional governments. However, since the 1987 and 1991 legislative elections, Portugal approximates a two-party system in which the PPD/PSD - a right-of-center party despite its name - and the PS have been alternating in power. The PPD/PSD ruled with an absolute majority in the Assembly of the Republic from 1987 until 1995, when the PS won the legislative elections and formed a minority government that remained in power until the 2002 legislative elections, in which the PPD/PSD prevailed by a relatively narrow margin and formed a coalition government with the CDS-PP, a right-wing, Christian democratic-oriented party. However, in 2005 the ruling center-right coalition was overwhelmingly defeated by the Socialist Party, which for the first time in Portuguese history obtained an absolute majority of seats in the Assembly of the Republic.

In the 2009 legislative elections, the Socialist Party lost the absolute majority it had attained in 2005; nonetheless, it retained the largest number of seats in the Assembly and remained in power under a minority government.

Online Resources


Copyright © 2005-2015 Manuel Álvarez-Rivera. All Rights Reserved.
Last update: October 4, 2015.