Lisbon coalition collapses

Last October Portugal's Democratic alliance won a landslide victory in general elections and euphorically announced it would govern the country for the next four years.

Lisbon had rarely seen such celebrations since the 1974 revolution.

Nine months later the voters who gave the right-wing Alliance the parliamentary majority it had clamored for watch bewildered while it disintegrates before their eyes -- brought down by internal rivalries rather than by the mild-mannered opposition of its political foes on the left.

Few of those who cast their votes for the Alliance in its traditional rural strongholds of Portugal's conservative north can grasp the complexities of a political crisis that forced Prime Minister Francisco Pinto Balsemao to resign in order to crush his opponents within his own ruling coalition of Social Democrats, Christian Democrats, and Monarchists.

Before resigning, Mr. Balsemao complained that the biggest opposition to his government was being voiced by a minority within the Social Democrats, the party he himself founded.

The divisions within the alliance are highly complex, created by the strains of power on an oddly assorted coalition that was hastily put together as the right formula to win an election.

Simplistically, the main disagreement appears to be between those who believe the alliance should govern, in spite of not having all the powers it needs, and those who think it best for the alliance to go into opposition, in spite of having a parliamentary majority.

Mr. Balsemao and his supporters, who include the liberal wing of the Christian Democrats and the Monarchists, consider it essential that the alliance should not fail its electorate and should rule Portugal in spite of having lost last December's presidential elections. They believe that having a reasonable relationship with President Antonio Ramalho Eanes is simply making the best of a bad job.

The Social Democrat hard-liners, backed by the conservative Christian Democtrat leades who refused to served in the Balsemao government after General Eanes was elected, seem to prefer forcing the alliance out of power rather than reaching any kind of compromise with the President or the opposition.

Unless there is a compromise, however, the 1976 Constitution cannot be revised. That means that the military council of the revolution will go on being able to veto government legislation, that the armed forces will stay outside government control, and that the stifling state controls on the economy, which the alliance had promised to remove, will remain.

In other words, unless the alliance reaches some sort of deal with General Eanes or the socialist Party over the constitutional revision, Portugal will be unable to remove its last remaining revolutionary trappings until new elections produce the right president and the right majority.

It almost seems as though Mr. Balsemao's critics are prepared to stop the clock until the 1985 presidential elections to punish the Portuguese people for having preferred General Eanes to the alliance's own candidate last December.

There is growing talk in official circles here about the possibility of the Democratic Alliance splitting apart.

If such a split did occur, it is not only the long-promised constitutional revision that would be jeopardized. Portugal would lose the stabel parliamentary majority it needs if the huge and extremely difficult reforms needed to adapt the country for membership in the European Community are to be pushed through by the target entry date of 1984.

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