In its roles as guarantor of democracy and the rule of law
and supervisory body par excellence, the Assembly of the Republic
has several political scrutiny instruments at its disposal.
The Constitution of the Portuguese Republic and the Rules
of Procedure of the Assembly of the Republic both make provision
for two legal formats – the
– which Members of the Assembly of the Republic can
use to call on the Government and the Public Administration,
which are then
legally obliged to respond within a period of thirty days.
Members can either pose direct questions, or ask for clarifications
about any of a whole range of issues, such as the current
status of a given works project, or the respective call for
tenders, or which public or private entity has been awarded
the contract to build a hospital, school or any other social
are entitled to receive any data, information and official
publications that they consider useful to the exercise of
their mandate from the organs of any public entity, although
Government or Public Administration acts concerning matters
covered by the law on state secrets are excluded.
In addition, the rules on
permit close supervision of the work of the executive branch
of government, by granting
Committees of Inquiry
the power to requisition all the documentation concerning
a given issue or specific proceedings. They can also summon
members of the Government or any other citizens whom they
believe to be in possession of facts or information that are
useful to finding out the truth. Once the decision to hold
an inquiry has been taken, an ad hoc committee is formed,
assesses whether a de facto situation complies with the Constitution
and the law, and considers the acts of the Government and
the Public Administration in relation to that situation. A
parliamentary inquiry must be held if one fifth of the Members
of the Assembly of the Republic in full exercise of their
office ask for one; parliamentary groups, committees or individual
Members can also take the initiative of asking for an inquiry.
Inquiries must be conducted within 180 days, although the
Plenary of the Assembly of the Republic can grant an extension
of a further 90 days. In addition to the specific powers given
to them by law, parliamentary committees of inquiry enjoy
the investigative powers of the judicial authorities, except
for those that are exclusively reserved to the latter by the
are another way of scrutinising the acts of the Government
and the Public Administration. This method is available to
citizens, who, subject to fulfilment of the requirements laid
down in the Law governing the Exercise of the Right of Petition
(Law no. 45/2007 of 24 August 2007), can address petitions
to the President of the Assembly of the
Republic, for consideration by the parliamentary committee(s)
with responsibility for the matter in question.
If a petition is signed by more than 4,000 citizens, it can
even ask that a given matter of interest be considered by
the Plenary itself.
Calls on the Government
are a political prerogative of parliamentary groups, which
can use them to oblige members of the Government to attend
the Assembly. The idea is that in the ensuing debate in the
Plenary, members of the government can be confronted with
criticisms of their general or sectoral policy. Each parliamentary
group has the right to use this mechanism to bring about two
debates in each legislative session.
are another important instrument for the exercise of political
scrutiny. They take the following forms:
motion of no confidence,
which aims to censure the way in which the Government’s
Programme is being implemented or a matter of important
national interest is being managed. A motion of no confidence
can be made by one quarter of all the Members of the Assembly
of the Republic in full exercise of their office, or by
any parliamentary group. Its passage requires an absolute
majority of all the Members in full exercise of their
office and will cause the Government to resign.
motion of confidence,
which asks for the passage of a vote of confidence in
relation to a statement of general policy or a matter
of important national interest. Such motions are made
by the Government, and their simple rejection leads to
the latter’s resignation.
motion to reject the Government’s
which only parliamentary groups have the right to make.
Passage again requires an absolute majority of all the
Members in full exercise of their office, and will cause
the Government to resign.
debate on the
– a text containing the Government’s most important
political guidelines and the measures it will be taking or
proposing in the different areas of governance – is of the
greatest importance where political scrutiny is concerned.
The Programme must be submitted for consideration by the
Assembly of the Republic within ten days of the Prime
Minister’s appointment, and is discussed in plenary, in a
debate which cannot last more than three days. At any time
until the end of the debate, any parliamentary group can
propose that the Programme be rejected, and the Government
can ask for a vote of confidence.
At the end of each calendar year, the Assembly of the
Republic has a means of exercising effective control over
the Executive, when it considers and approves or rejects the
General State Accounts. This is a document that is
drawn up by the Government and contains all the figures for
the state’s income and expenditure. It also includes a
report and general statements of account, groups of accounts
and other information. Once approved, the General State
Accounts are published in the official journal – the
Diário da República.