PM António Costa
What next for António Costa? Image: Lusa

Portugal falls 13 places in ‘political representation index’ in report on democracies

Citizens feel less represented by their ‘leaders’

Portugal has fallen 13 places in the ‘political representation index’ of the annual report on the Global State of Democracies.

What this means is that citizens feel “less represented by their leaders” – which in the context of an absolute majority can make perfect sense.

Indeed, this is a situation that the country’s head of State has been trying to warn about in a number of recent speeches.

President Marcelo’s warnings however have not served to stop something that is happening on a European level.

As reports today stress, “the study reveals that in Europe, many democracies with strong traditions have seen a decline in their democratic performance”.

Portugal is one of the countries that has suffered the greatest fall in the political representation index – a very bad sign. It is the index that shows “how citizens feel they are represented by elected representatives”, says Lusa, not referring to the degree of social and public sector unrest that has been battering the country in recent months.

Only a couple of days ago, Lusa carried a report on how strike notices in the civil service have increased by around 290% in the first nine months of this year alone (compared to last year, when dissatisfaction with the government was also a popular theme).

In numbers, what all this means is that Portugal ‘fell’ from position nine in the ranking to position 22 last year, after having been in 3rd place as recently as 2017 (in a ranking that takes in 173 countries).

These studies are performed by IDEA, the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, described as an intergovernmental organisation based in Stockholm (Sweden).

IDEA emphasises the fact that Portugal belongs to a large group of countries that have fallen substantially in this index over the last six years.

The only flicker of light is that in spite of this consistent falling from a state of comparative grace, Portugal is still in a relatively good position compared to many other countries, even in Europe.

It actually doesn’t make things ‘better’, but shows perhaps how nothing really is very good.

In another relevant index (of the 17 analysed), referring to civic participation (the way in which people seek to interfere in the democratic process), Portugal has increased seven places (from 76th to 69th) compared to the previous year, remaining in the top half of the ranking. And this is actually excellent news, as it shows, dissatisfaction reaps action, even in a country mired by the memory of dictatorship.

Says Lusa, in the civil rights index, Portugal maintained its 31st position (held in 2021 and in 2017)  while in the rule of law index (one that has shown the greatest erosion at a global level), the country fell just one place from 33rd to 34th position (2017 actually saw Portugal 12 slots higher, but … that’s old history).

Overall, IDEA emphasises that many European democracies are showing real declines in democratic performance – namely Austria, the Netherlands, Portugal and UK.

Yet, at the same time, Europe remains “one of the best performing regions on the planet, and there are even encouraging signs, especially in Central Europe, of significant progress in democratic performance”.

According to the report, almost half (85) of the 173 countries surveyed have suffered a decline in at least one key indicator of democratic performance over the last five years, based on 17 parameters ranging from civil liberties to judicial independence.

So President Marcelo was very much reading the room when he tried to alert the country to the dangers of disappearing democracy last year, and again earlier this year. As IDEA’s latest report stresses: “Democracy must be reinvigorated—not because it needs to prevail in a presumed new Cold War era, but because it still offers the best chance of preserving what is needed for (and valuable in) human life. This is the true measure of success for democracies and societies in this day and age”. ND