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  Parliament

 

The Portuguese Parliament consists of a single Chamber known as the Assembly of the Republic. The Constitution says that there are a number of entities that exercise sovereignty, of which the Assembly is one (the others are the President of the Republic, the Government, and the Courts). In the words of the Constitution, it is “the assembly that represents all Portuguese citizens”.

The Constitution, the Rules of Procedure and the Statute of Members lay down the Assembly of the Republic’s competences and the rules governing its modus operandi (the way it works), together with the rights and duties of its Members. In doing so they ensure that there is both a separation of powers and various forms of interdependence in relation to the other entities that exercise sovereignty.

In addition to its primordial role of representing all Portuguese citizens, the Assembly of the Republic is also responsible for passing the fundamental laws of the Republic, scrutinising compliance with the Constitution and the laws, and considering the acts of the Government and the Public Administration.

This page will enable you to get a better picture of the many aspects of the Assembly of the Republic – the way it is elected, its position within the group of entities that exercise sovereignty, its organisation and modus operandi and the way a law is made. It also offers some notes about the history of parliamentarianism.

Knowing more about the Assembly of the Republic is essential to a more enlightened exercise of the inalienable right to citizenship.

Statute and Election

The Assembly of the Republic is the assembly that represents all Portuguese citizens. It is made up of 230 Members of the Assembly of the Republic.

Any Portuguese citizen (aged 18 or over) can be a Member of the Assembly of the Republic. Electoral law does make some exceptions due to the nature of certain positions, such as judges, active military personnel, diplomats and others.

Members of the Assembly of the Republic are elected from lists that parties or coalitions of parties put forward in each constituency. Votes are converted into seats using the proportional representation system and d’Hondt’s highest-average rule.

Each Member represents the whole country and not just the citizens from the constituency for which he or she was elected. Their term of office is four years, which corresponds to the duration of one legislature.

Each parliamentary year is known as a legislative session, and starts on 15 September. Members’ terms of office only end the first time the Assembly sits after new elections have been held.

The Assembly that was elected on 4 october 2015 initiated the 13th Legislature. The official results of the elections were published in Series I of Diário da República no. 205 dated 20 october 2015, Official Table no. 2-B/2015.

Please click on this link for a summary of the election results since the 1st Legislature.


Competences

The Assembly of the Republic possesses political, legislative and supervisory competences, and also some other competences in relation to other entities.

Legislative Competence:

The Assembly can legislate on anything except matters that concern the Government’s organisation and modus operandi.

There are subjects on which only the Assembly can legislate. These are the matters that fall within the Assembly’s exclusive legislative competence – for example, elections, political parties, the State Budget, referenda, and the basic laws on the education system and national defence.

There are other matters that fall within the Assembly of the Republic’s partially exclusive legislative competence, and the Government can pass legislation on them if the Assembly authorises it to do so. Examples include rights, freedoms and guarantees, the definition of crimes and security measures, taxes and the fiscal system, agricultural and monetary policies, rural and urban rentals, the jurisdiction of the courts, and information services.

The legislative texts passed by the Assembly are called decrees, but after they have been enacted and have received the ministerial counter-signature, they are published as Laws. As a rule, their passage requires a simple majority. However, some laws, which are known as Organisational Laws, have to be passed by an absolute majority of the sitting Members of the Assembly of the Republic (this is the case, for example, with laws on elections to the Assembly of the Republic and the Presidency of the Republic, referenda, and national defence).

Laws that amend the Constitution are called Constitutional Laws and have to be passed by a majority of at least 2/3 of all the Members in full exercise of their office.

All other Assembly decisions take the form of Resolutions.

Supervisory Competences:

The Assembly is responsible for scrutinising compliance with the Constitution and the laws and considering the acts of the Government and the Administration.

The Government is formed in the light of the result of the legislative elections (the name that is given to the elections to the Assembly of the Republic). After taking office, the Government submits its Programme to the Assembly of the Republic, which then has up to three plenary sittings to consider it. During the debate on the Government’s Programme, any opposition parliamentary group can move to reject it, or the Government can ask for a vote of confidence.

At any time, the Government can ask the Assembly to pass a motion of confidence in relation to any matter of important national interest. Similarly, any parliamentary group can make a motion of no confidence in the Government. Passage of a motion of no confidence by an absolute majority of Members in full exercise of their office or rejection of a motion of confidence by a simple majority of Members who are present means the Government must resign.

In each legislative session (parliamentary year), each parliamentary group can cause the holding of two debates on a matter of general or sectoral policy. This type of initiative is known as calling upon the Government.

The Prime Minister must also attend the Plenary for a session of Members’ questions once a fortnight. Members may also submit written questions to the Government, and these are known as requests.

Any matter of important public interest related to compliance with laws or to acts of the Government and the Public Administration can be the object of a parliamentary inquiry. The Assembly forms an ad hoc committee for each such case.

Members can ask that the Assembly consider executive laws passed by the Government, except those concerning the Government’s exclusive competences. The Assembly can entirely or partially suspend the force of an executive law until the law that amends it is published.

Competences in relation to other Entities:

The President of the Republic takes office before the Assembly of the Republic.

The President of the Republic cannot absent himself from Portuguese territory without the consent of the Assembly of the Republic, except when he or she is on a private visit lasting no more than five days.

The Assembly of the Republic also has the competence to pass the political and administrative statutes and the electoral laws of the autonomous regions, give opinions on the dissolution of their self-government organs, and grant the respective Regional Legislative Assemblies authorisation to legislate on certain matters.

The Assembly of the Republic plays a sometimes exclusive and sometimes joint role in the appointment of the officeholders of certain external entities, especially the Ombudsman, the President of the Economic and Social Council, the Justices of the Constitutional Court, the Supreme Judicial Council, the National Electoral Commission, the Intelligence Services Oversight Council, etc.

Common Legislative Procedure

The power to initiate legislation lies with Members of the Assembly of the Republic and parliamentary groups, in which case they take the form of Member’s bills, and with the Government and the Regional Legislative Assemblies, when they take the form of government bills.

Under the terms of Article 167 of the Constitution and Law no. 17/2003, of 4 June 2003, groups of registered electors can also exercise the right to initiate legislation before the Assembly of the Republic, and can participate in the resulting legislative procedure.

Member’s bills that are submitted in this way must be signed by at least 20,000 registered electors.

Once it has been admitted by the President of the Assembly, each initiative is sent to a specialised committee for an opinion. This is followed by a debate on the general principles, which is always held in plenary sitting and ends with a vote on the general principles (about the overall outline of the initiative).

There then follows a debate and a vote on the details (article by article), which takes place either in the Plenary or in committee.

Certain matters require that the debate and vote on the details take place in the Plenary. Examples include those concerning elections for the officeholders of entities that exercise sovereignty, referenda, political parties, and the creation of local authorities and changes to their territory.

The final text is put to a final overall vote, which always occurs in the Plenary.

If an initiative is passed, it becomes known as a Decree of the Assembly of the Republic.

Each Decree is signed by the President of the Assembly of the Republic and sent to the President of the Republic for enactment. Once enacted, the Decree is called a Law and is sent to the Government for counter-signature (signature by the Prime Minister), and then on to the National Press for publication in Series 1 of the Diário da República.

The President of the Republic can exercise the right of veto, either because he or she considers that the text which has been passed by the Assembly of the Republic contains rules that contradict the Constitution (whereupon the President will ask the Constitutional Court for an opinion), or for political reasons, which must be set out in a message that includes the grounds for the President’s position.

In the event that any of the rules in legislation are considered unconstitutional, the Assembly can pass amendments to the text and again send it for enactment. However, whatever the reason for the veto, the Assembly can always confirm a text that has previously been passed by an absolute majority of sitting Members (or a majority of 2/3 for certain matters). In this case, the President of the Republic must obligatorily enact the bill within 8 days.

Organisation and Modus Operandi

At the start of each legislature, the Assembly elects its President and the other members of the Bureau. It also lists the members of the specialist standing committees, although the Plenary can decide to change them later.

The President represents the Assembly, chairs the Bureau, directs parliamentary proceedings, sets the order of business after first consulting the Conference of Parliamentary Group Representatives, signs the decrees and other documents issued in the name of the Assembly of the Republic, and oversees its administration.

The President of the Assembly of the Republic is elected by an absolute majority of the Members in full exercise of their office. He is also responsible for temporarily substituting for the President of the Republic.

The Bureau is an organ made up of the President, four Vice-Presidents, four Secretaries and four Vice-Secretaries. It is elected for the duration of each legislature, and is responsible for assisting the President in the exercise of his functions, declaring that a Member has lost his seat, and directing plenary sittings.

The Members of the Assembly of the Republic who are elected for each party or coalition of parties can form a parliamentary group.

Usually, there are as many parliamentary groups as there are parties with seats in the Assembly.

Parliamentary groups have certain rights, such as appointing their representatives on committees, submitting Members’ bills, being consulted via their chairmen as to the order of business, making motions of no confidence in the Government and motions rejecting the Government’s Programme, and causing the holding of two debates in each legislative session by calling on the Government to attend the Assembly.

The proportional makeup of the Assembly’s specialist standing committees matches the number of seats each party holds in the Assembly.

The legislative initiatives that are submitted to the Assembly are studied and debated at committee meetings before being considered or put to the vote in plenary sittings.

Subject to the prior consent of the President of the Assembly of the Republic, any committee can form subcommittees whenever it considers it necessary.

The Assembly can also form ad hoc committees and working groups for particular purposes.

The Standing Committee operates when the Assembly of the Republic is not in full session or has been dissolved. It is composed of the President of the Assembly, the Vice-Presidents and Members appointed by each of the political parties. The Standing Committee is responsible for monitoring the activities of the Government, consenting to the President of the Republic’s absence from the country, authorising committees to function if necessary, and preparing the opening of legislative sessions.

Political and legislative debates can take place either in plenary sittings or at committee meetings.

The President sets the agenda (known as the order of business) of each plenary sitting at least fifteen days in advance, after first consulting the Conference of Parliamentary Group Representatives, at which the Government is also entitled to be represented.

Members of the Government can also speak in debates.

Plenary sittings are public, and usually take place three times a week.

Each plenary sitting is recorded in full and the transcription is published in Series 1 of the Official Journal of the Assembly of the Republic.

Committee meetings are scheduled either by the committee itself or by its chairman, and the order of business for each one is set in advance.

Members of the Government can take part in committee meetings. These are public, but committees can meet in camera whenever this is justified by the classified nature of the matters under consideration.