Sa Carneiro keeps Portugal moving on rightist course

For the first time in six years, the carnation commemorating the overthrow of half a century of dictatorship in Portugal on April 25, 1974, is no longer red, but a curious mixture of pink, green, and yellow.

Whatever happened to the symbol of freedom and deliverance on this sixth anniversary?

"We've decided to make the flower the same color as the national flag," said one of the organizers of this year's anniversary celebrations. He is Maj. Vasco Lourenco, one of the original "captains of April" whose dissatisfaction with the old regime's handling of Portugal's colonial policy led to a leftist military coup and the ensuing "revolution."

Today Major Lourenco is not quite so euphoric. The changing colors of the commemorative "stickers" that he is distributing up and down the country contribute to the feeling that Portugal has, indeed, changed.

A general election last December gave a resounding victory to a center-right coalition pledged to a drastic rollback of many of the political and economic reforms that have taken place since 1977.

Since then, the government led by Dr. Franciso Sa Carneiro has moved with "Thatcherite" determination, pruning the public sector and opening market sectors of the economy such as banking and insurance to the private sector. He is also leading a well- orchestrated "attack" on Portugal's constitutional watchdog, the military council of the revolution, which is made up largely of left- wing officers such as Major Lourenco.

This week Dr. Sa Carneiro's Democratic Alliance (AD) broke dramatically with the practice pursued by previous governments by refusing to organize the anniversary celebrations. One AD official said, "We have to remember that many of those who voted for us in December never supported the 25th of April coup."

Instead of celebrating, the government made its own kind of commemoration, endorsing a virulent anticommunist Army officer as its candidate for the presidential elections later this year. He is Gen. Antonio Soares Carneiro, the president of the Association of Commandos, Portugal's elite troops.

The choice of General Soares Carneiro took many observers here by surprise since it appeared to contradict Prime Minister Sa Carneiro's election pledge that he would take the armed forces out of Portuguese politics. The general commands considerable respect among conservative sectors within the Portuguese military for being one of the few high- ranking officers to have survived the "revolution" without supporting it. He has a reputation for firm ideas and he would be unlikely to play a "low profile" role on becoming chief of state.

Defenders describe him as a true "professional" who will bring the Portuguese armed forces back to the kind of discipline that characterized them before they "meddled in politics." They point to General Soares Carneiro's two-year experience as commander of Portugal's crack mechanized infantry brigade in the north of Portugal, where a 4,000-man strong NATO brigade is now based.

In short, his backers feel this strong-willed Army officer will bring the soldiers firmly back into the barracks and let the politicians get on with the job of governing.

But critics of the presidential candidate are suspicious of General Soares Carneiro's political past as prime minister of colonial Angola. They describe him as a Portuguese "Pinochet" who would mobilize his loyal troops if he saw Portugal's march back toward the right impeded in any way.

Given the sheer unpredictability of Portuguese politics either scenario is possible if and when General Soares Carneiro is elected next December.

What does seem certain, however, is that the future role of the Portuguese armed forces will be largely determined by the interpretation put on a crucial government law soon to be presented to parliament.

This is a new law of national defense that aims to substitute for Portugal's socialist- leaning Constitution as the legal framework within which the Portuguese military can or cannot act.

It envisages the disbanding of the Council of the Revolution and its replacement by a new body, the Superior Council for National Defense. The council will be composed of the president, the chiefs of staff, and members of the government. It will be in charge of "defending national independence against all threats of attack against the unity of the nation."

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