Securing Democracy: Political Parties and Democratic Consolidation in Southern Europe

By Geoffrey Pridham | Go to book overview

Chapter five

Portugal: an open verdict

Ken Gladdish

A purely political analysis, based exclusively on the possibilities opened up by a democratic system, would not be enough to explain how social behaviour distorts, in the Portuguese case, the abstract properties of democratic political theory.

(Joaquim Aguiar) 1


Introduction

The evaluation of the contribution made by political parties to democratic consolidation presents, in the case of Portugal, a formidable array of problems. Some of these can be regarded as generic. In the post-1945 era, Portugal shared with a number of other European states a battery of social and economic disadvantages in comparison with those parts of western Europe which, over the ensuing decades, would achieve unprecedented affluence. The experience of a prolonged period of dictatorship was also shared with certain other states, most relevantly with Spain. But there is a further dimension to the Portuguese experience in that the long phase of authoritarian rule in the mid-twentieth century had not been preceded by any process of significant political mobilization. Neither the experience of monarchical parliamentary government from the 1850s on, nor the efforts of the First Republic, from 1910 to 1926, had resulted in the cultivation of a politically organized citizenry attuned to the activities of national parties competing in elections on the basis of universal adult suffrage. 2 This inheritance of socio-economic backwardness and of political passivity has acted as a strong 'Confining condition' on the scope for parties as agents of the new democracy.

Discussion of the performance and achievements of the political parties since the overthrow of the Salazar-Caetano regime in April 1974 has therefore to be firmly predicated on that circumstance. Thus, the parties of the new democracy have been aptly described as 'a skin over a sharply stepped political culture'. 3 In his extended analysis of systemic

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