Foto: CML

Municipal elections – what are they and what are we voting for?

In municipal elections, we vote for 3 institutions through 3 bulletins of different colors: the city council, the municipal assembly and the parish assembly, and the executive board. The borough president is not chosen directly in the elections but by secret ballot during the first meeting of the parish assembly.

The municipal elections are held every four years.

Elections always take place on a Sunday or a public holiday, between September 22nd and October 14.

Who can vote?

All those over 18, as long as they are registered to vote.

A foreigner living in Lisbon can register to vote and be elected for the local elections if you are:

  • Registered
  • Brazilian, Cape Verdian, member of the European Union, from the United Kingdom, with residency prior to Brexit; from Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Island, Norway, New Zeeland, Peru, Uruguay and Venezuela.

What do you need to register?

1) Valid residency title – Registration Certificate for an EU Citizen (CRCUE), Residence Card (CR), Residence Permit (AR) –, if you are an European Union national, or an United Kingdom national with residence in Portugal prior to Brexit;

2) Proof of minimal time of residence in Portugal:
– over two years, if you are a national of Cape Verde or Brazil;
– over three years, if you are a national of Argentina, Chile,
Colombia, Iceland, Norway, New Zealand, Peru, Uruguay and
Venezuela or of the United Kingdom, after Brexit;

3) Proof of Address – bill or something that states your address
4) Send an email to your Junta de Freguesia scheduling an appointment

• This must take place at least 60 days before an election

How can you get elected?

Yes, you may be elected if you are:

a) a brazilian citizen with equality status;b) European Union national;
c) United Kingdom national with residence in Portugal prior to Brexit;´
d) Citizen of Brazil (without equality status) and Cape Verde with a valid residence
permit in Portugal for more than four years

For which positions foreign citizens cannot be elected?

Foreigners cannot be elected to the positions of President of the Republic, President of the Assembly of the Republic and Prime Minister.

What to do if you have changed residence?

Anyone who, being a foreigner and having a residence permit, has changed residence to another parish must keep in mind that they have to update the address of their residence permit and, with this document already updated, contact the new parish council (unlike what happens with national citizens this process is not automatic).

What are the levels of participation of immigrants?

Brazilians (data from the 2015 Observatory for Migration): 6.5%

Cape Verdians: 29.5%

This is a clear sign that language or cultural proximity is not enough to explain this difference and that it is necessary to look for other factors to explain this divergence, such as the culture of civic and electoral participation in the countries of origin and the greater or lesser community integration of these immigrant communities.

What has been the growth in registration and voter participation of community citizens?

Although the panorama is not bright in the participation rates of the Portuguese-speaking community in the numbers of voter registration of citizens of the European Union there is a growth of 14 times more than the so-called “third countries” of the EU which means that, on the contrary of these (which are mainly Portuguese-speaking countries) it is to them that the global growth in the number of subscribers owes mainly.

How to vote?

Local elections in Portugal are held every 4 years or in exceptional circumstances. In addition to Legislatives and Autonomous Regions, foreign voters can also participate in national and local referendums, under reciprocal conditions, citizens of Portuguese-speaking states with legal residence in Portugal for more than two years, registered in the area and foreign citizens of the European Union registered in the area, when Portuguese citizens in the respective State of origin of the foreign citizen legally enjoy equal rights.

Where can you find out where to vote?

To find out the place to vote in the parish where the voter has registered, he can find out about it through the internet, on the voter registration portal, by SMS or, in person, at his parish council or city council.

How is voting carried out on election day?

On the day set for the election or referendum, the voter must (in Portugal the vote is not mandatory as in Belgium or Brazil) present himself at his polling station and show his identification document at the polling station.

The ballot paper will be handed to him by the presiding officer or his vice-president. In local elections, 3 bulletins are delivered (Parish Assembly, Municipal Assembly and City Council) where you can, if you wish, express the three votes in a different way.

These ballot papers are identified with the name of the body and each ballot has a different color: green for the Municipal or City Council, yellow for the Municipal Assembly and white for the Parish Assembly.

The voter must then go to the polling station and fill in the ballot with a cross in the square in front of the list for which he wishes to vote.

In case of a referendum, you must put the cross in the option “YES” or in the option “NO”.

If you damage the bulletin, return it to the presiding officer and ask for a new bulletin.

Fold the bulletin with the printed part facing inwards and return to the polling station and hand the bulletin to the presiding officer, who will place it in the ballot box.

If the voter has a notorious illness or disability, the polling station verifies the fact, but, having doubts about the notoriety of the illness or physical disability, he/she may require a certificate attesting to the impossibility of voting alone (for this purpose, the health centers are open on election days).

Is there electronic voting in Portugal?

In Portugal it is not possible to vote electronically. However, some electronic voting tests have already been carried out in polling stations and this is an issue where work is being carried out and there may be changes soon.

What to do if I work on election day?

Anyone who is working on election day must be exempt from it for a sufficient period of time to exercise the right to vote.

So three ballots… What will we be voting for, exactly?

There will be three paper ballots in the elections. One (green) for the Mayors Office – the Câmara Municipal (which comprises the president and the Councilmen). The Mayor is the candidate in the most voted party or coalition. The government is then chosen by him – with the participation of other councilmen that can be picked on other parties if he wishes to do so.

There is another ballot (yellow) for the Municipal Assembly – and it will be composed of the elected councilmen from all the parties.

And there is a third ballot for the Junta de Freguesia – the borough council and government. The government is chosen from the most voted party in the council.

How is the ballot paper presented?

As for the ballot paper, it contains the names, acronyms and symbols of all competing parties and coalitions in the order determined by the draw in courts.

What is a “null vote”?

The vote is considered void in the following situations:

a) when more than one square is marked or when there is doubt about which square is marked

b) when the square of a list that has withdrawn from the elections or has not been admitted is ticked

c) when the ballot paper has been cut, drawn, erased or any word has been written

d) in cases of early voting, when the ballot does not arrive at the polling station under the legally established conditions or is received in an envelope that is not properly closed.

e) and a ballot paper that does not have any type of mark is considered a blank ballot.

Do blank votes have an impact on the election result?

It should be remembered that even if the number of blank or null votes is the majority, the election is valid and the mandates are counted taking into account the votes validly expressed in the candidacies.

What is “early voting”?

In the last elections, the advance voting regime has been extended, which previously was limited to citizens who were prevented from going to the polling station on election day and who were in one of the following situations:

a) The inpatients in hospitals

b) prisoners/the ones not deprived of political rights

c) citizens in mobility

c) displaced citizens abroad.

What happnens after the election?

The mayor forms a government, with executive power.

The Assemblies, both in the municipality and in the borough, hold the deliberation power which must approve or block the deliberations from the government.

What does this mean?

The mayor decides and presents his government proposals in the Câmara Municipal Meetings. Foremost, the budget. He submits the proposals to the voting of the councilors in this first council – and this is where the confusion begins.

The municipality is organized in three governing bodies: the executive board (the government) and two councils – the Municipal Council and the General Municipal Assembly. The first council – which is called Municipal Council (Câmara Municipal) is smaller (has 17 members) and composed of the leader councilman who got voted for the government.

So the members of the Câmara Municipal are the ones who are part of the executive board – now they are 9 and all have different areas and responsabilities.

The rest of the members are the leaders of the elected lists, belong to the opposition parties which got enough votes to be elected.

Usually the governing majority approves the proposals. But when there is no majority, there have to be agreements and alliances.

The General Municipal Assembly comes second and then approves or disaproves the proposals voted first by the Municipal Council. Some areas are approved by the Municipal Council, only. There is a big bureaucratic guide to this.

The Assembly is like a second chamber, larger: without the approval of the Municipal Assembly, many of the proposals cannot make their way.

So how does this work?

After being elected, the mayor chooses which councilors he/she will work with and give tasks and “areas” in his/her government.

Councilors in the executive board are members of the elected list or members of other coalition lists or even opposition councilmen, if that makes sense. Among the group of councilors, the president appoints the vice president.

Not all the councilmen are “full time”. They may be half time coucilmen or even just go to the Câmara Municipal sessions – without any executive responsibilities, namely the opposition ones. Not all receive the same wage – these last ones only get a payment by the session.

What real power does the mayor have?

Lots of them.

The law lists several dozen functions and powers of the Mayor. These include: preparing and updating the register of assets and patrimony in the municipality, keeping up with the finances control (namely the coordination of the municipal budget and the activity plan, authorization of the outflow of money), complying with the deliberations of the municipal assembly and inform it of all the activities, approving the public works and services financed by the municipality, call all council meetings, manage the municipality’s human resources and take care of the civil protection service and the municipal council of security.

What about the boroughs? Is it the same?

No, they have more limited powers and means, less income and less staff. They solve greater proximity issues related, for example, to neighborhood relations. The complete list of competences can be consulted here.

They manage, conserve and promote cleanings in their neighborhoods, streets, washrooms and public toilets, maintain and manage the playgrounds, cemeteries and other public services. Their responsibilities depend also on the municipal executive and what the parliament chooses to give them, any given time.

How does a City Council – Câmara Municipal – work?

As for the Municipal Council, the governance rules favors political diversity – the winning list does not get all the seats in the municipal executive.

The councilors are, in fact, elected by the proportional method in which the mayor is the first name on the most voted list and the councilor seats are assigned according to the voting using the Hondt method. The councilors are from different parties on the basis of their electoral result.

When the winner does not get majority, alliances have to be made in order to govern (this was the case of Rui Moreira in Oporto, with PS and Fernando Medina in Lisbon, with BE).

What is the size of the Executive of a City Council?

As for the size of the City Council team, it varies depending on the size of the council and its population and can range from 5 to 16 councilors, Lisbon being the municipality in Portugal with the most councilors: 16 (in addition to the mayor).

What are the deliberative bodies of the municipality?

Municipal assemblies and parish assemblies are the deliberative bodies of the municipality, while municipal councils and parish councils are the executive bodies. This means that the assemblies monitor and supervise the work of the chambers and the executive boards and approve the decisions and budgets to be applied by Organs executive bodies.

What are the competences of the parishes or borroughs?

In Lisbon there is a very extensive list of powers transfered to the parishes: large budgets, namley. In 2012, a new city map with 24 parishes was designed. And new skills and more financial and human resources attributed to them.

In what areas of civic and political life in cities can foreign citizens intervene?

Citizens and, in particular, citizens of foreign nationality, can intervene in various instances of local democracy in Lisbon: they can vote but they can also be elected, they can be petitioners to the Assembly of the Republic and Municipal Assembly, may intervene in Municipal Assemblies and Parish Assemblies in the Period Before the Agenda, may vote in national and local Referendums (with the above limitations), can participate in informal movements and associations (according to their statutes), may be militants of political parties, may vote and present proposals for Participatory Budgets of Parish Councils and CML, may participate in Public Consultations of City Council projects and proposals

What will be (probably) the biggest themes of the next municipal campaign?

Access to housing – tourism – climate crisis- public transportation – Parking – mobility – cleaness – tress and gardens – security – homelessness – culture – social support in the pandemic – the health in the pandemic – the vaccionation process –

According to the Annual Barometer of Perception of Quality of Life in Lisbon parishes of Vizinhos in Lisbon of May 2021 (which had 463 responses with average satisfaction levels from 1 to 5) what is the average level of satisfaction of city residents?

School-to-home distance 3.08

Public Transport 3.0

Recycling 2.99

Internet usage 2.98

Health Care 2.97

Pandemic Management 2.97

Green spaces (quantity) 2.93

Green spaces (maintenance) 2.90

Artistic Manifestations 2.90

Bike lanes 2.90

Urban Hygiene 2.76

Air quality 2.75

Parking 2.71

Noise 2.67

Policing 2.65

Sidewalk 2.58

Number of political posters (oudoors) 2.57

Global for the local parish 3.03

Global for CML 2.91


* Carolina Alves é estudante de Ciências da Comunicação na Universidade Nova de Lisboa/FCSH e está a fazer um estágio na Mensagem ao abrigo do protocolo Repórteres de Bairro. Este texto foi editado pela jornalista Catarina Pires. Rui Martins is the president of the Vizinhos de Lisboa Association and a candidate in the elections at Areeiro. He is a Lisboa Geek.

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3 Comentários

  1. Thank you for the event today – June 22, 2021. It was quite helpful. It was a great introduction to the basics of Lisbon’s/Portugal’s civic governance system. And this article is also quite good. What you are missing is actionable items. I have quite a lot of questions on how to actually get things done. Perhaps, a follow-up?

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