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Portugal - Politics

Portugal moved from authoritarian rule to parliamentary democracy following the 1974 military coup against Marcelo Caetano, whose rule embodied a continuation of the long-running dictatorship of Antonio Salazar. After a period of instability and communist agitation, Portugal ratified a new constitution in 1976. Subsequent revisions of the constitution placed the military under strict civilian control; trimmed the powers of the president; and laid the groundwork for a stable, pluralistic liberal democracy, as well as privatization of nationalized firms and the government-owned media. Portugal joined the European Union (EU) in 1986 and has moved toward greater political and economic integration with Europe ever since.

Between 1976 and 1985 a series of coalition and caretaker governments saw Socialist (PS) dominance gradually eroded in favour of the center-right Social Democrats (PSD). The first regular parliamentary elections were held in April 1976. The winner was the PS with 35 percent of the vote, far ahead of its competitors, but not enough for an absolute majority in the new unicameral parliament, the Assembly of the Republic. With its leader Soares as prime minister, the PS formed a minority government that governed for eighteen months. When it fell because of a motion of censure, the PS formed a governing coalition with the Christian democrat CDS that lasted another year. Enormous social and economic problems, including the return of 600,000 Portuguese settlers and demobilized soldiers from Africa, combined with factionalism and personal rivalries, were the undoing of these first two constitutional governments. Eanes then appointed a series of nonpartisan caretaker governments composed of experts and technocrats in the hope that they could better deal with pressing issues and govern until the next parliamentary elections mandated by the constitution for 1980.

Each of the three caretaker governments failed, and Eanes was forced to call for early elections in December 1979, even though parliamentary elections would still have to be held the following year. The Democratic Alliance (Aliana Democrtica--AD), a coalition of the PPD--now called the Social Democrat Party (Partido Social Democrata--PSD)--the CDS, and several smaller groups, won the election, but without a majority. The coalition formed a government with the forceful and charismatic PSD leader S Carneiro as prime minister. The AD won the October 1980 election, as well, and governed Portugal until 1983. New elections were called that year because the AD, without the leadership of S Carneiro, who had died in a December 1980 plane crash, had disintegrated, and no effective government could be formed.

During its time in power, however, the AD coalition had effected some far-reaching constitutional amendments that strengthened the system of parliamentary government. With the support of the PS, which gave the AD the required two-thirds majorities, constitutional amendments were passed in 1982 that weakened the power of the president and strengthened both the prime minister and the legislature. The presidency remained an essential governing institution, but the balance of political power had shifted to favor the cabinet and the legislature, as in most other Western democracies. A further amendment ended the military's guardianship over the new democracy. The amendment eliminated the Council of the Revolution, through which the military had frequently vetoed legislation, and replaced it with the Constitutional Court that functioned in the same manner as similar bodies in other parliamentary democracies. President Eanes, easily reelected in late 1980 for a second five-year term, signed the amendments into law, although he opposed them because they reduced the president's powers and returned the military to the barracks.

After the 1983 parliamentary elections, the PS formed a coalition government with the PSD. The huge losses stemming from the many firms nationalized during the revolution, the enormous expansion of the numbers of those employed by the state, the effects of the two oil-price hikes of the 1970s, and the flight of much entrepreneurial talent from Portugal had left the economy in a desperate state. Inflation was as high as 30 percent a year, and many workers had real earnings lower than those of the early 1970s. In addition, many companies were in such financial straits that wages were often months in arrears.

No government had been able to deal with these economic problems in a meaningful way. The AD and PS combination that had effected some vital constitutional changes was not able to amend the constitutional provisions that declared the revolution's nationalizations irreversible. In addition, the country's labor laws in essence guaranteed employees jobs for life and made rational deployment of labor nearly impossible. Given these circumstances, the PS-PSD government had to make some very difficult decisions and became unpopular as the economy worsened. The alliance, troubled also by personal rivalries, collapsed in early 1985.







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