Fall of Portugal's coalition bolsters critics of system

The collapse of M'ario Soares' coalition government is raising serious questions about the viability of Portugal's present political system. The government's fall would appear to exhaust all feasible combinations of coalition in the Portuguese parliament. In the 11 years since Portugal became a democracy again, it has had 15 governments.

And the collapse strengthens those opposed to the power-sharing between president and prime minister instituted by the 1976 Constitution.

Ironically, the two-year-old Socialist-led coalition fell only 24 hours after Lisbon signed the treaty that grants it membership in the European Community as of Jan. 1, 1986.

As he announced his government's resignation Thursday, Dr. Soares warned of political destabilization and economic uncertainty.

The coalition fell apart after Social Democrats walked out, citing irreconcilable policy differences with the Socialists.

Critics of Portugal's current system, which divides responsibilities between president and prime minister, claim it produces a weak government.

A new development, however, may change things. Diogo Freitas do Amaral, a former leader of the Christian Democratic Party, has decided to run in the presidential race at year's end. He advocates a strong presidency and a subordinated parliament.

The fall of the Soares government has enhanced Mr. Amaral's chances, analysts here say. The Social Democrats, under newly elected hard-line leader, Anibal Cavaco e Silva, are preparing to back Amaral. So are the Christian Democrats.

Should their support coalesce, it might result in the kind of right-of-center political alliance that preceded the current government. Some analysts say such an alliance would probably be powerful enough to gain a parliamentary majority in a general election.

If it were reinforced by success in the presidential race, the alliance would have a mandate to bring about fundamental changes in the political system. But first, President Antonio Ramalho Eanes would have to call an early general election.

This, Soares said, would be the logical outcome of the fall of his administration. There are growing signs that such a ballot is in the offing.

The reappearance of a rightist bloc would be a severe blow to Soares' own presidential ambitions.

His party is to support his nomination in the December race, and so far his only serious opponent is Amaral.

Soares opposes any radical alteration of the present political system, which he says has not yet had time to prove itself.

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