Madeira is an autonomous region of Portugal. Autonomy was granted soon after the revolution of the 25th April 1974 that swept away the last vestiges of the Salazar dictatorship that had governed mainland Portugal, the islands and the colonies since 1928. The level of autonomy is ever changing and ever disputed, but is ultimately decided upon by the Assembleia da República that sits in Lisbon.

To the outside world, people from Madeira are, to all intents and purposes, Portuguese. They carry Portuguese passports, vote in Portuguese elections and pay Portuguese taxes. Where they differ from the rest (with the exception of their island brethren on the Azores) is that they are also represented at a local level by the Regional Government of Madeira.

As relative newcomers to democracy, the Portuguese, and more directly the people of Madeira, display the fervour of the newly converted. Elections for the Lisbon parliament occur at least every four years, as do separate elections for the President of the Republic, the regional government and the local councils. Elections are colourful, noisy and fun. The various political parties, who call themselves by a bewildering and ever-changing array of acronyms, compete to provide the best jamborees at election time.

The art of sound bite campaigning and the role of the spin-doctors are still mercifully less important than the stump. One name is synonymous with Government on Madeira - Dr. Alberto João Jardim – undoubtedly the most controversial politician in Portugal today. He has been a champion of Madeira for more than 24 years and takes his fight to the highest levels of Government on the mainland and to the European bureaucrats in Brussels.

The astonishing development of the island over the past 25 years can largely be attributed to his dedication and very personal brand of politics. To understand the President of the Regional Government is to understand the local government today. The present mayor of Funchal is Dr Miguel Albuquerque.

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