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What if You Wrote a Constitution in 1976?
Portugal's Modern Constitution
I must admit I became more interested in US History and the American Constitution as a result of the 45th President. So when a friend recommended I watch the NetFlix series Amend, I was all in. Not only did I learn a lot about the 14th Amendment, but I was reminded of how little US history we are taught in public school. Hint: we did some really horrendous stuff.
Portugal 20th Century
While human history in Portugal can be traced to 300 BC, I am going to focus on the last 100 years. Here’s the Reader’s Digest version.
There was a monarchy until 1910 which was overthrown.
The First Republic (1910 to 1926) included corruption, repression of the church, and the near-bankruptcy of the state resulting in another coup.
The 1926 coup installed the "Second Republic", a dictatorship that became the “New State” led by António de Oliveira Salazar. He reigned until his death in 1970. Salazar was replaced by Marcelo Caetano who continued the policies of censorship, surveillance, intimidation, imprisonment, and assassination of political opponents.
Meanwhile, Portugal maintained colonies around the world. However, in 1961 the first of these, Goa was lost in armed conflict to India. In addition, independence movements began in the Portuguese colonies in Africa resulting in the Portuguese Colonial Wars. Over 100,000 Africans were killed during the conflict.
No one liked these continued conflicts in Africa and they were not real crazy about living under a dictatorship. So in April 1974, we have the nearly bloodless left-wing coup called the Carnation Revolution, installing the “Third Republic”.
In 1976 Portugal became a democratic republic, with a parliamentary form of government, and granted independence to overseas territories.
A Modern Constitution
As I read the Portuguese Constitution, a document published in 1976, I am struck by what a difference 200 years make. For example, there is no need for the 14th or 19th Amendment to confer rights to persons other than white males. Article 2 protects all citizens rights:
No one may be privileged, favoured, prejudiced, deprived of any right or exempted from any duty for reasons of ancestry, sex, race, language, territory of origin, religion, political or ideological beliefs, education, economic situation, social circumstances or sexual orientation.
And Article 36 gives everyone the right to marry. It actually gives everyone the right to family planning services in Article 67. Remember this all happened in 1976 (more than 40 years ago).
So while I was pleased to read a modern, progressive constitution I was surprised to read Article 130:
The President of the Republic answers before the Supreme Court of Justice for crimes committed in the exercise of his functions.
Proceedings may only be initiated by the Assembly of the Republic, upon a motion subscribed by one fifth and a decision passed by a two-thirds majority of all the Members of the Assembly of the Republic in full exercise of their office.
Conviction implies removal from office and disqualification from re-election.
For crimes that are not committed in the exercise of his functions, the President of the Republic answers before the common courts, once his term of office has ended.
Permit me to offer some advice to the Portuguese people. I mean this with great sincerity and with the utmost respect. You might want to revisit section 4 of Article 130. As America has demonstrated, when you have a President that feels he could “stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody” and an Attorney General that defends the near limitless authority of the President…some interesting (perhaps unintended) things can happen. Just saying….
Note: I found reading the Portuguese Constitution very interesting. As such, I suspect I might be writing more about it in the future. Does this interest you? Let me know. I don’t want to bore you.