Portuguese politics operated at several different levels. The constitution and the laws comprised the first level. This formal structure of government, often appeared rigid, legalistic, and impenetrable, especially to outsiders. Yet, these legal and constitutional structures were more obvious and more easily understood than the other levels of the Portuguese system of government.
The second level consisted of political parties and interest groups. Because of its legalistic tradition, a strict separation existed in Portugal between the formal governmental system and the sphere of political parties and interest groups. Portuguese tended to respect their formal system of government but to denigrate political parties and interest groups. As Portuguese democracy flourished through the 1980s, however, political parties and interest groups gained greater acceptance as an integral part of the system of government.
Unlike these first two levels, the third level of Portuguese politics was largely invisible and was the most difficult for outsiders to penetrate and comprehend. This level consisted of the informal connections, family relationships, interpersonal ties, kinships, and patronage networks that were so much the heart of the Portuguese political system. Seldom spoken of or described by the Portuguese, these relationships enabled the Portuguese system to function and to cut through vast layers of red tape.
Many of the informal networks that had long steered Portuguese affairs were severely disrupted by the Revolution of 1974 when many families and extended clans lost their property and their positions. However, many of these networks were rebuilt in subsequent years, and others were formed by the forging of new political and economic relationships. Knowledge of this third level of Portuguese politics was crucial for a full understanding of the formal and the informal dynamics within the Portuguese political system.
|Country Studies main page | Portugal Country Studies main page|