Portugal held an early parliamentary election on Sunday, June 5, 2011, following the collapse of Prime Minister José Sócrates' minority government last March 23. 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:
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 and Legislativas 2011 websites. Note that these statistics do not include results in the election districts established for Portuguese voters residing abroad.
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:
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.
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:
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:
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:
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:
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.
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.
Copyright © 2005-2011 Manuel
Álvarez-Rivera. All Rights Reserved.