Quality of Portugal’s democracy dips even lower than that of European neighbours

The quality of Portugal’s democracy has taken a dive – as has that of almost every country on the planet. But Portugal’s has dipped even lower than its European neighbours.

This is the dismal message coming out of the latest Global Report on the State of Democracy – attesting to a world that, with the pandemic, is becoming “more authoritarian” all round.

Compiled by International IDEA – the international institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance – the study looked at the democratic performance of 158 countries since 1975, “seeking to supply a diagnostic on the state of democracies throughout the world”, explains Expresso.

“In a general form, the report shows the world is becoming more authoritarian and that democratic governments are regressing, resorting to repressive practices and weakening the State of Law.

“With regard to Portugal, the report concludes that the democratic regime has suffered setbacks in sensitive areas – namely judicial independence, absence of corruption and equality before the law – being the only country in Western Europe that registers a fall in three parameters of evaluation”.

Further east, countries like Hungary, Poland and Slovenia, have dipped four parameters, but in the west the Portuguese regime is the one that comes off the worst when compared to IDEA’s previous report, compiled before the pandemic in 2019.

It’s not all ‘bad news’ however. In other areas, Portugal is still doing better than some of the much richer European countries, including Germany, France and Switzerland – and it is holding its own on a southern European level, scoring ‘above average’ points in some parameters.

These include ‘governmental representation’, ‘electoral transparency’, ‘freedom of political parties’ and ‘civic freedoms’.

At a point where civic freedoms generally are under threat, Portugal’s score of 0.89 tops the western European average of 0.87 and is far ahead of the southern European average of 0.75.

The country’s weaknesses are essentially in areas where it has always been weak: justice and corruption.

At a moment where Portugal’s justice minister has already said she won’t be standing in January’s elections because “my place is not here; this is not my profession”, it is interesting to discover that access to justice is almost as bad as civic freedoms are good: Portugal’s score is 0.71, when the western European average is 0.87, and the southern European average is 0.74.

Judicial independence is another embarrassment: Portugal scores 0.74 points, against a western European average of 0.78. (The southern European average however is even worse: 0.64.)

When it comes to absence of corruption, Portugal scores a lot less than western Europe as a whole (0.66 compared to 0.85), but still manages a better ranking than southern Europe (an average of 0.62).

Things slide again with “participation of civil society” – this is particularly relevant as civil society is being blanked over the issue of mining (click here): Portugal scores 0.58 against a western European average of 0.81, and a southern European average of 0.62.

All in all, Portugal still hangs in with what IDEA calls the “intermediate group in respect of quality of democracy” – ie, it is neither a good example nor bad.

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