Political parties – name and initials
Inclusion on the register of political parties;
Political party names
RULING No. 386/15
12 of August of 2015
The Constitutional Court found a change in a political party’s name (and consequently initials), from Partido Portugal Pró Vida (Pro-Life Portugal Party, PPV) to the “Cidadania e Democracia Cristã” (Citizenship and Christian Democracy, PVV/CDC) party, is not in breach of the constitutional precept which, without prejudice to the philosophy or ideology that inspires their political programmes, precludes political parties from using names containing expressions directly linked to any religion or church. The expression “Christian democracy” refers to a given political ideology. The use of the term (vocable) “Christian” in a party name – “Citizenship and Christian Democracy”, for example – cannot be dissociated from the expression as a whole, which does not convey a reference to a concrete religion, but rather a way of thinking and an ideology regarding the application of certain principles and values in national and international political life.
The Law governing Political Parties says that they must apply for inclusion on the register of parties kept at the Constitutional Court. This registration is required for them to be recognised and be attributed legal personality. As part of the competences regarding political parties which its Organic Law attributes to the Constitutional Court, when asked to do so the latter must record each party on a specific register that is kept at the Court, gauge the legality of its name, symbol and initials in the light of the constitutional norm that determines the applicable limitations, and make the required notes on the record regarding the party.
In the present case the Partido Portugal Pró Vida (Pro-Life Portugal Party, PPV) asked the Court to change its existing record and attach the appropriate note, in such a way as to change the party’s name and initials to “Cidadania e Democracia Cristã” (Citizenship and Christian Democracy, PVV/CDC). In addition to the name change, it also asked the Court to record some additional amendments to its articles of association.
The Law governing Political Parties requires each one to have its own name, symbol and initials, which must fulfil the following requisites: (i) none of the elements must be the same as or similar to those of another party; (ii) the name must not be based on a person’s name, or contain expressions that are directly related to any religion or any national institution; (iii) it must not be possible to graphically or phonetically confuse them with or relate them to any national emblems or symbols or any religious images or symbols.
In the exercise of its competence to consider the legality of party names, symbols and initials, the Constitutional Court has developed a body of jurisprudence which indicates that each of these elements must be scrutinised separately in order to determine their individual compliance or otherwise with the legal requisites, and that this scrutiny must consider them in the light of the meaning they possess when used in everyday language.
The Court found that the name “Citizenship and Christian Democracy” is not the same as or similar to that of any existing party, nor is it based on a person’s name. It also considered that the name does not contain any expressions that are directly related to a religion; and it noted that both the Constitution and the Law governing Political Parties specifically refer to the use of “expressions” that are directly related to any religion or church, and not to the use of vocables.
Political parties are “constitutional-law associations” or “associations that possess a private nature and are of constitutional interest”, and are governed by the principle of freedom of association. The Portuguese constitutional-law system does not control a party’s ideology or political programme in any way, except to prohibit the existence of: “Armed associations, military, militarised or paramilitary-type associations and organisations that are racist or display a fascist ideology”.
The Constitution also requires an association’s internal organisation to comply with principles of internal democracy, transparency, and democratic organisation and management, and that all its members should participate in the life of the association. The Court was unable to find any normative alterations in the amendments the party wanted to make to its articles of association that would have been in breach of either the Constitution of the Portuguese Republic or the Law governing Political Parties and that would have prevented the Court from recording and noting them on the appropriate register.
One Justice dissented from the part of the decision regarding the inclusion on the register of political parties of the change of the party’s name and consequently its initials from Pro-Life Portugal Party (PPV) to “Citizenship and Christian Democracy Party (PVV/CDC)”. In her opinion, use of the term “Christian” is directly linked to a religion and violates the constitutional norm which prohibits the use of expressions that are directly related to any religion. She recalled that the Court had already pronounced itself on the use of the same word, which it had found to be constitutionally prohibited when employed either individually or as part of a “syntagmatic axis” (the expression in the earlier case was “Christian social”). She admitted that the expression “Christian democracy” does refer to a current of political thinking, but considered that it is not constitutionally neutral.
The dissenting Justice said that the Constitution does not preclude a party from forming itself around an ideological line of thought which identifies itself with a current of thought that is influenced by Christianity. She accepted that a party can be inspired by a religion, and that this does not prevent voters from making their choice, on condition that it is made clear to them that certain lines of thinking may be religiously based. However, she said that she had reached her position with regard to the Ruling on the basis of the fact that the Portuguese Constitution rejects “labels” which may confuse people when they form their political will, thereby undermining the desirable transparency of participation in politics.
See Rulings nos. 107/95 (23-02-1995); 304/03 (18-06-2003); and 13/11 (12-01-2011).