As a consequence of its fundamental function of representation, the Assembly of the Republic has political and legislative competences and competences regarding other bodies.
The Assembly is the legislative body par excellence, and the initiative and competence for revising the Constitution belong exclusive to it. Except for reserved absolute and relative legislative competence and joint competence with other legislative bodies in the constitutional political system, the Parliament may legislate on all matters except those regarding the organisation and functioning of the Government.
Without affecting the right to exercise legislative initiative at the Assembly of the Republic belonging to the Government, registered electors and the legislative assemblies of the Autonomous Regions, Members and parliamentary groups have the right to initiate laws and referenda.
There are matters on which only the Assembly may legislate. These are matters of exclusive responsibility to legislate and include what is known as the political constitution – the election and statute of officeholders at bodies that exercise sovereign power, the organisation and functioning of the Constitutional Court, political parties, state budget, referenda, the regime governing the Republic’s intelligence system and state secrets – as well as others, such as the general principles and rules regarding education and national defence.
There are other matters that are reserved to the competences of the Assembly of the Republic but on which the Government may also legislate with authorisation to legislate from the Assembly, within the scope of what is called partially exclusive responsibility to legislate. These matters include rights, freedoms and guarantees, the definition of crimes and sentences, the general principles and rules regarding the social security system, the creation of taxes and the fiscal system, the general principles for agricultural policy, the monetary system, rural and urban rentals, and the statute of local authorities.
Legislative texts approved by the Assembly are, as a rule, voted on by simple majority, and are known as decrees until they are published as laws, following enactment and counter-signature. The approval of some laws, known as organic laws, requires an absolute majority of Members in exercise of their office (for example, laws regarding elections to the Assembly of the Republic and the Presidency of the Republic, the regime governing referenda and the organisation of national defence). Besides these, the approval of laws and rules about other constitutionally defined matters require a qualified majority of two-thirds of the Members present, provided that it is more than the absolute majority of Members in exercise of their office.
The initiative and competence for revising the Constitution belongs exclusively to the Assembly of the Republic. Laws that approve amendments to the Constitution following a process of constitutional revision are called constitutional laws and must be approved by a two-thirds majority of Members in exercise of their office.
The remaining acts approved by the Assembly take the form of motions or resolutions.
Responsibility to scrutinise
The Assembly is responsible for monitoring compliance with the Constitution and the laws and scrutinising the acts of the Government and the Administration.
The Prime Minister is appointed after the parties with seats in Assembly of the Republic have been consulted and taking into account the electoral results. Once installed, the Government presents its programme to the Assembly of the Republic, which considers it over a maximum period of three plenary sittings. During the debate on the government’s programme, any parliamentary group may propose the rejection of the programme or the Government may request the passage of a motion of confidence.
The Government may request the passage of a motion of confidence at any time and on important matters of national interest. Similarly, any parliamentary group may submit a motion of no confidence in the Government. The passage of a motion of no confidence by an absolute majority of all the Members in exercise of their office or the rejection of a motion of confidence by a simple majority of Members present leads to the removal of the Government.
The Prime Minister must attend the plenary sitting every fortnight for a debate with Members, and each minister must do the same at least once per legislative session. Members may also submit written questions or request information from the Government, known as questions and motions.
During every legislative session, there is a general policy debate on the state of the nation during one of the last ten plenary sittings.
Other types of debate are also held: debates on current affairs, thematic debates, emergency debates, and potestative political debates. Each parliamentary group may propose two debates per legislative session on matters of general or sectoral policy. These types of initiative are named calls upon the Government.
Ministers are heard by the parliamentary committees (which committee depends on the matter in question) at least four times per legislative session, and they must also attend other hearings if decided by the committees. Parliamentary committees may request the presence of any citizen or public or private body within the scope of their powers to scrutinise the activity of the Government and the Administration.
Any matter of relevant public interest relating to compliance with laws or acts of the Government or Public Administration may be the object of a parliamentary inquiry. These may only relate to acts of the Government or the Administration which took place in legislatures previous to the current legislature when dealing with matters that are still under consideration, new facts or facts discovered afterwards.
Parliamentary inquiries are conducted by ad hoc committees formed especially for each case.
Another important scrutiny instrument is the possibility of Members requesting the consideration of the Government’s executive laws, unless they have been passed as part of the Government’s exclusive legislative responsibilities. The Assembly may fully or partially suspend the effects of an executive law approved under authorisation to legislate until the publication of a law that amends it.
Responsibilities in relation to other bodies
Within the framework of separation of powers and interdependence of bodies that exercise sovereign power, the Assembly of the Republic is responsible for witnessing the installation of the President of the Republic, agreeing to the President’s absence from Portuguese territory and performing the accusation process against the head of state for crimes during his or her exercise of functions.
As well as the competences regarding consideration of the Government's programme and voting on motions of confidence or no confidence, the Parliament also has the responsibility to decide on the suspension of members of the Government to allow criminal proceedings to proceed.
It is the Assembly of the Republic’s responsibility to approve the political and administrative statute and the electoral laws of the Autonomous Regions, without prejudice to their exclusive power to initiate legislation, and to grant the legislative assemblies authorisation to legislate on certain matters.
The Assembly of the Republic appoints, by election, members of external constitutional bodies: 10 Constitutional Court judges, the Ombudsman, the President of the Economic and Social Council, 7 members of the Supreme Judicial Council, 5 members of the Supreme Council of the Public Prosecutors' Office, 6 members of the National Election Commission, the members of the Media Regulatory Authority and the members of the Council for the Oversight of the Intelligence System of the Portuguese Republic.
Members, parliamentary groups and the Bureau may propose votes of congratulation, protest, condemnation, greeting or condolence, which are debated and voted on in the Plenary.
Members possess the following powers:
a) To submit draft amendments to the Constitution;
b) To submit Member’s bills, draft Rules of Procedure, draft resolutions, particularly in relation to referenda, and draft decisions, and to request that they be scheduled for debate;
c) To take part and speak in parliamentary debates;
d) To question the Government about any of its acts or those of the Public Administration, save only the legal provisions concerning state secrets;
e) To request and obtain the elements, information and official publications they deem useful to the exercise of their mandate from the Government or the organs of any public entity;
f) To move the formation of parliamentary committees of inquiry;
g) To submit draft amendments to legislative initiatives under consideration;
h) To move that executive laws be considered with a view to their ceasing to be in force or their amendment;
i) To move the emergency consideration of any initiative;
j) To make motions of no confidence in the Government;
l) To take part in discussion and voting;
m) To propose the formation of ad hoc parliamentary committees;
n) To propose the holding of parliamentary hearings;
o) To ask the Constitutional Court to perform prior or subsequent reviews of the constitutionality and legality of rules.
Decisions are taken by plurality vote and require the presence of the majority of all Members in full exercise of their office, which is verified in advance using the electronic voting mechanism and is announced by the Bureau.
The permitted forms of voting include:
- Standing and sitting;
- Electronic voting;
- Roll call;
- Secret ballot.
Vote by roll call can be used upon request by a tenth of Members on the following matters:
- Authorisation to declare war or make peace;
- Authorisation and confirmation of a declaration of a state of siege or a state of emergency;
- Charges against the President of the Republic;
- The granting of amnesties and general pardons;
- The reconsideration of decrees or resolutions regarding which the President of the Republic has issued a veto.
Any other matter may be put to a vote by roll call if the Plenary of the Assembly of the Republic or the Conference of Leaders so decides. This type of vote is done in alphabetical order and votes are also recorded electronically.
In the event of a tie in the vote, the matter in question is discussed again. If there has been no discussion, the voting is repeated at the following sitting, with the possibility of a discussion.
A tied second vote means the item is rejected.
Secret ballots are held for:
- Such decisions as the Rules of Procedure or the Statute of Members require to be made in this way.