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The Povo Livre publication was founded, its first issue being published on 13 July 1974, led by its first two directors, Manuel Alegria and Rui Machete. The PPD's first major meeting was held in the "Pavilhão dos Desportos", Lisbon, on 25 October, and a month later the party's first official congress took place.
On 17 January 1975, 6300 signatures were sent to the Supreme Court so that the party could be approved as a legitimate political entity, which happened a mere eight days later.
Alberto João Jardim was the co-founder of the Madeiran branch of the PSD, and governed the autonomous archipelago for decades, running as a member of the party.
Democratic Alliance governments
The Social Democratic Party participated in a number of coalition governments in Portugal between 1974 and 1976, following the Carnation Revolution. This is seen as a transitional period in Portuguese politics, in which political institutions were built and took time to stabilize. In 1979, the PSD formed an electoral alliance, known as the Democratic Alliance (AD), with the Democratic and Social Centre (now called the People's Party, CDS-PP) and a couple of smaller right-wing parties. The AD won the parliamentary elections towards the end of 1979, and the PSD leader, Francisco Sá Carneiro, became Prime Minister. The PSD would be part of all governments until 1995. The AD increased its parliamentary majority in new elections called for 1980, but was devastated by the death of Sá Caneiro in an air crash on 4 December 1980. Francisco Pinto Balsemão took over the leadership of both the Social Democratic Party and the Democratic Alliance, as well as the Prime Ministership, but lacking Sá Carneiro's charisma, he was unable to rally popular support.
The Democratic Alliance was dissolved in 1983, and in parliamentary elections that year, the PSD lost to the Socialist Party (PS). Falling short of a majority, however, the Socialists formed a grand coalition, known as the Central Bloc, with the PSD. Many right-wingers in the PSD, including Aníbal Cavaco Silva, opposed participation in the PS-led government, and so, when Cavaco Silva was elected leader of the party on 2 June 1985, the coalition was doomed.
Cavaco Silva governments (1985-1995)
The PSD won a plurality (but not a majority) in the general election of 1985, and Cavaco Silva became Prime Minister. Economic liberalization and tax cuts ushered in several years of economic growth. After a motion of no confidence was approved, early elections were called for July 1987 which resulted in a landslide victory for the PSD, who captured 50.2% percent of the popular vote and 148 of the 250 parliamentary seats - the first time that any political party in Portugal had mustered an absolute majority in a free election. A strong economy, growing above 7% in 1988, ushered a big convergence between Portugal and other EU countries. The PSD won a historic 3rd term in the 1991 election, almost as easily as in 1987, but continuing high levels of unemployment and a lower economy, after 1993, eroded the popularity of the Cavaco Silva government.
Cavaco Silva stepped down as leader in January 1995. In the following month, in the PSD congress, the party elected Fernando Nogueira as leader. The PSD lost the 1995 election to the PS. In 1996, Cavaco Silva ran for the presidency of the republic, but he failed to defeat former Lisbon Mayor Jorge Sampaio. Sampaio won 53.9% to Cavaco's 46.1%. The party, for the first time in 16 years, was out of government. The party was again defeated in the 1999 elections.
First PSD/CDS coalition government
The PSD made a comeback in 2002, however: despite falling short of a majority, the PSD won enough seats to form a coalition with the CDS-PP, and the PSD leader, José Manuel Durão Barroso, became Prime Minister. Durão Barroso later resigned his post to become President of the European Commission, leaving the way for Pedro Santana Lopes, a man with whom he was frequently at odds, to become leader of the party and Prime Minister.
Back in opposition (2005-2011)
In the parliamentary election held on 20 February 2005, Santana Lopes led the PSD to its worst defeat since 1983. With a negative swing of more than 12% percent, the party won only 75 seats, a loss of 30. The rival Socialist Party had won an absolute majority, and remained in government after the 2009 parliamentary election, albeit without an absolute majority, leaving the PSD in opposition.
The PSD-supported candidate Aníbal Cavaco Silva won the Portuguese presidential elections in 2006 and again in 2011. After the 2005 elections, Luís Marques Mendes was elected leader of the party. Internal infighting weakened Marques Mendes and, in September 2007, Marques Mendes was defeated by Luís Filipe Menezes by a 54% to 42% margin. Menezes was also incapable with dealing with his internal opposition and, after just six months in the job, Menezes resigned. On 31 May 2008, Manuela Ferreira Leite became the first female leader of a Portuguese major party. She won 38% of the votes, against the 31% of Pedro Passos Coelho and the 30% of Pedro Santana Lopes.
In the European Parliament election held on 7 June 2009, the PSD defeated the governing socialists, capturing 31.7% of the popular vote and electing eight MEPs, while the Socialist Party only won 26.5% of the popular vote and elected seven MEPs.
Although this was expected to be a "redrawing of the electoral map", the PSD was still defeated later that year, though the PS lost its majority. Pedro Passos Coelho was elected leader in March 2010, with 61% of the votes.
Second PSD/CDS coalition government
Growing popular disenchantment with the government's handling of the economic crisis coupled with the government's inability to secure the support of other parties to implement the necessary reforms to address the crisis, forced the Socialist Party Prime Minister José Sócrates to resign, leading to a fresh election on 5 June 2011. This resulted in a non-absolute majority for the PSD, leading to a coalition government with the CDS-PP, which served a full term until the 2015 general election. During this term, many austerity policies were put into practice to reduce the budget deficit but, ultimately, created unemployment and a recession that lasted until mid 2013. Since that date, the economy recovered starting to grow between 1 and 2% per trimester.
In the 2015 general election, the PSD and CDS-PP ran in a joint coalition, called Portugal Ahead, led by Pedro Passos Coelho and Paulo Portas. The coalition won the elections by a wide margin over the Socialists, capturing 38.6% of the votes while the Socialists captured only 32%, although the coalition lost 25 MPs and a more than 11% of the votes, thus falling well short of an absolute majority. The PSD/CDS-PP coalition was asked by the then President of the Republic, Aníbal Cavaco Silva, to form a government with Passos Coelho as Prime Minister.
Back in opposition (2015-present)
The 2nd PSD/CDS government was duly formed and took the oath of office on 30 October 2015, but fell after a no-confidence motion was approved two weeks later. Its 11 days of rule make it the shortest-lived government since Portugal has been a democracy holding free elections. After that, the PSD returned to the opposition benches, and the Socialist Party was able to form an agreement with BE and CDU to support a PS minority government led by António Costa. Pedro Passos Coelho continued as party leader, but a weak opposition strategy led to bad polling numbers for the PSD. All of this culminated with the results of the 2017 local elections. In these elections, the PSD achieved their worst results ever, winning just 98 mayors and 30% of the votes. Passos Coelho announced he would not run for another term as PSD leader. On 13 January 2018, Rui Rio defeated Pedro Santana Lopes by a 54% to 46% margin and became the new party leader.
During his first year in the leadership, Rio faced big internal opposition and, in January 2019, Rio won a motion of confidence presented by Luís Montenegro. In the EP 2019 elections, the PSD achieved their worst result ever in a national election, winning just 22% of the votes. However, the party recovered a lot of ground in the October 2019 general elections, achieving 28% of the votes, against the 36% of the PS. Nonetheless, Rio's leadership was, once again, challenged and he faced, in a two round leadership contest in January 2020, Luís Montenegro and Miguel Pinto Luz. Rio won the 1st round with 49% of the votes and defeated Luís Montenegro in the 2nd round by 53% to 47% margin, thus being re-elected as party leader.
The PSD is frequently referred to as a party that is not ideology-based, but rather a power party (partido do poder). It frequently adopts a functional big tent party strategy to win elections. Due to this strategy, which most trace to Cavaco Silva's leadership, the party is made up of many factions, mostly centre-right (including liberal democrats, Christian democrats and neoconservatives) as well as quasi-social-democrats and former communists:
Portuguese social democrats: the main faction when the party was created, throughout the party's history rightist politicians joined them to have a greater chance of gaining power and influencing the country's politics (see liberals, conservatives, right-wing populists and neoliberals). They do not follow traditional social democracy, but Portuguese social democracy as defined by Sá Carneiro's actions and writings, which includes a degree of centrist and leftist populism. They followed a kind of anti-class struggle party/cross-class party strategy. All the other members of the party claim to follow this line. Among its representatives were most of the leaders between Francisco Sá Carneiro and Cavaco Silva, Alberto João Jardim (also a founding member and an anti-neoliberal) and to an extent Luís Filipe Menezes (who called the PSD the "moderate left party") identified himself with a centre-left matrix and a united left strategy and defended a more open party on issues like abortion. José Mendes Bota is another left-wing populist. The Portuguese social-democrats are centered around the Grupo da Boavista (Boavista Group).
European-style social-democrats: follow traditional social democracy. They share with the Portuguese social democrats their presence at the creation of the party and "a non-Marxist progressivist line". Many of them (former party leader António Sousa Franco, party co-founder Magalhães Mota, writer and feminist Natália Correia) supported the Opções Inadiáveis (Pressing Options) manifesto, and then left to create the Independent Social Democrat Association (Associação Social Democrata Independente, ASDI) and the Social Democrat Movement (Movimento Social Democrata, MSD), forming electoral coalitions (later fusioning to) the Socialist Party during the 1970s-1980s. Some took part in the Democratic Renovator Party. A later example of a European-style Social democrat leaving the party for the Socialists is activist and politician Helena Roseta. The ones still in the party adapted to its current right-wing outlook or Portuguese social democracy. They today include former communists-turned centre-leftists, like Zita Seabra. Durão Barroso might have moved from Thatcherism to social democracy. Ironically, both Social Democrat factions were represented in the 2008 party elections by Manuela Ferreira Leite, economically neoliberal and socially conservative (often compared to Thatcher).
Agrarianism: the other main faction at creation. The PSD was always more successful in the Northern and rural areas of the country. When Sousa Franco and his SPD-inspired social democrats started their break with the rest of the party he referred to a division between "a rural wing, led by Sá Carneiro, and an urban wing, more moderate and truly social democratic, close to the positions of Helmut Schmidt" Due to the electoral influence of ruralism on the PSD's politics they may be seen inside of or influencing most factions.
Christian democrats and social Christians: some claim the PSD as the party from Christian democracy and social Christianity from the beginning, or having these currents as part of its legacy. Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa is one of the main preachers of Social Christianity inside the PSD. As is Paulo Rangel.
Conservatives: with the post-revolutionary opposition to the right (see above in liberal) no specific conservative party was founded in Portugal; conservatives acted inside the CDS-PP and the PSD. Frequently linked with the neoliberals, pure conservatives are rare in the party as the usual partisan or politician of the party is economically moderate, but socially conservative. One of the rare exceptions of a pure conservative in this party was former party member and MP Vasco Pulido Valente, who is highly elitist and a cultural purist (unlike most of the party's partisans, who have various degrees of populism or meritocratism), highly conservative and traditionalist.
Neoconservatives: mostly former communists and leftists who supported the policies of the Bush Administration and defend similar views in Portuguese politics. The main example is José Pacheco Pereira (though his support of the Bush doctrine on the invasion of Iraq is sometimes challenged. They are frequently referred to as "Cavaco-ists" due to their support of cavacoism's legacy and candidates representative of it, like Cavaco Silva himself and Ferreira Leite, defending the position that they should take a hard stance on the left and its social liberalism).
Neoliberals: neoliberal tendencies were introduced in Portuguese economy by Cavaco Silva, removing socialism from the constitution and finishing the de-collectivization of the economy started with Sá Carneiro. Cavaco (a self-described neo-Keynesian) never employed a totally Reaganite or Thatcherite strategy, maintaining a social democrat matrix and many (right and left-wing) populist and neo-Keynesian policies. Alberto João Jardim described the inconsistent neoliberalism of the PSD as "those Chicago Boys have some funny ideas, but when election time arrives the old Keynesianism is still what counts". Cavaco Silva and Durão Barroso are both sometimes referred to as the closest to neo-liberal leaders of the party. The main pure representative of the streak is Manuela Ferreira Leite, but even she called herself a social democrat and explained "I'm not certainly liberal, I'm also not populist" and lead the social democratic factions during internal party rifts, though she accepts the nickname "Portuguese iron lady" and comparisons to Thatcher if "[it] means [...] an enormous intransigence on values and in principles, of not abdicating from these values and from these principles and of continuing my way independently of the popularity of my actions and the effects on my image". The main group (officially non-partisan) associated with the neoliberal faction of the PSD is the Projecto Farol (Lighthouse Project).
Overlappers: the average PSD voter and partisan since Cavaco Silva's leadership. Cavaco himself, though a self-described Neo-Keynesian, an early member of the party since its centre-left days and a man with social-liberal and centrist populist economic policy tendencies, he is personally a social conservative (opposing same-sex marriage and abortion) and a practicing Catholic. As such, Cavacoism should be considered a "hybrid" or a political syncretism. A similar case is Vasco Graça Moura, who claims to be an economic social democrat but opposes gay people serving in the military and is a self-described "centre-left reactionary". The overlappers are mainly represented in the forums gathered by the District of Oporto section of the party, which during the 2009 European elections tried to gather the ideas of all factions.
Centrists: not to be confused with overlappers. Still indecisive between (traditional or Portuguese) social democracy, social liberalism or any other kind of centrism.
Transversalists: are pragmatic and not strict on ideological issues. Although open to privatization and civil society alternatives to the social state, in speech they move closer to the centre-left origins of the party and are generally proud of them. The main representative of this faction is Pedro Passos Coelho, who claims to be neither left nor right, but that "the real issues are between old and new", though his opponents identified him as a liberal (in the conservative-liberal or neoliberal European sense) since the 2008 party election, though he recalled the many meanings of liberal and recalled the left liberalism of the United States Democratic Party, being even called "PSD's Obama" by supporters. Centrists and transversalists inside the party share the think tank Construir Ideias (Building Ideas), which Passos Coelho founded and leads. They mix (like the closely allied centrists) calls to privatization with others to more social justice, government regulation and arbitration and strategic governmental involvement in the economy. This faction is in constant rift with the more socially right-wing ones (who have been leading the party for a long time) and also with the overlappers whose hybrid approach they refuse, over the future of the party and its future ideological and philosophical alignments.
^A Leaders until Pinto Balsemão had the title of General-Secretary, which from then on became the title of the second-in-command, with the leader's title being the one of President. ^BEmídio Guerreiro temporarily replaced Sá Carneiro in 1975 due to health reasons.