Immigrants' Access to Local Political Spaces: Voters and Elected Candidates in Portuguese Municipalities and Parishes
Centro de Estudos Sociais Centro de Estudos Sociais, University of Coimbra Coimbra, Portugal
Since 1996 Portugal is one of the European countries where local-level voting rights and rights to eligibility are not only extended to EU citizens but also include foreigners from Portuguese community countries and countries that grant similar rights to Portuguese emigrants. This paper presents the results of the first study assessing the impact of these voting rights. Its first objective is to explain the weak participation of foreigners in three rounds of Portuguese local elections (1997, 2001 and 2005). This phenomenon is closely related to the non-registration of a large percentage of non-nationals which would have the right to vote. On the other hand, the presentation discusses the motivations of those immigrants who decide to vote or to run as candidates. It starts by exploring the reasons why in the late 1990s laws were passed to give certain groups of foreigners voting rights. This involves presenting the development of migrant flows in Portugal, the ways in which migrants organized themselves to defend their interests and how alliances were forged with political parties. After a brief outline of the law, which includes only certain groups of foreigners, the paper then addresses the reasons for which foreigners abstain from voting, or, to the contrary, make use of their rights. Finally, we deal with the motivations of migrants to run for elected offices in municipal or parish councils. Analysis takes into account the differences among immigrant groups and social categories, as well as regional variations, and relations between formal and informal political participation.