Portugal's October election holds key to nation's democratic future
Lisbon — Scarcely an evening passes in Lisbon without a fireworks display or a political demonstration, and even the usually more restrained leaders appear to be working overtime as the Oct. 5 general election nears.
Last week Socialist Party leader Mario Soares showed that he could defy gravity as well as the right wing by flying over Lisbon in a dirigible balloon.
Right now, Europe's dirtiest capital is awash with political graffiti. Every available wall space has been covered in posters or paint, the streets and the avenues are littered with pamphlets, and the cobblestones echo with anthems and slogans as cavalcades of enthusiasts spread their manifestoes.
The energy and the enthusiasm of the campaign reflects the crucial nature of next month's elections. If Portugal's first parliamentary election in 1976 represented the birth of democracy after nearly half a century of dictatorship, then the coming election holds the key to its future.
During the next four years the Portuguese parliament will be involved not just in the revision of the Portuguese Constitution but in the final negotiation of Portugal's accession to the Common Market, and the definition of its NATO role.
The ruling Democratic Alliance is pledged to muting the Portuguese revolution even more than it has been already. The economy is to be opened up further to the private sector; the state sector is to be trimmed; the leftwing military to be taken out of politics, and Portugal is to be put on a firmly pro-NATO, pro-European Community (EC) footing without any major conditions. In direct opposition is the United People's Alliance, an electoral grouping led by Portugal's orthodox communists.
The existing Constitution was drawn up soon after the Portuguese revolution of 1974 and is still essentially Marxist. It excludes private enterprise from certain areas of the economy, enshrines nationalizations as an irreversible conquest of the working class, and defines the aim of Portuguese democracy as a transition toward socialism.
The Constitution also gives a central role within the political system to the armed forces, and, in particular, to the military Council of the Revolution, which is still largely composed of left-wing officers. Under present law the Constitution must be revised within the next year.
The Oct. 5 election has been provoked not just by any immediate political crisis, but because the Constitution demands it. Last December Portugal's President Eanes called a snap election as a temporary solution to the political impasse. Since 1974 Portugal has experienced constant changes of government because the politicians have been unable to reach a minimum consensus.
The election brought to power for the first time since the 1974 revolution a right-wing government committed to radical reform. It won with a convincing majority, but its term of office was limited on account of a constitutional stipulation that the next full-year legislature could only begin after a general election in October 1980.
The main contenders today are much the same as they were 10 months ago. A few alliances have shifted but the changes have been cosmetic rather than substantial.
Western Europe's most Stalinist communist party has come round grudgingly from the restless militancy of revolution to the caution of parliamentary politics. But the Communist Party in its manifesto remains dogmatically Marxist-Leninist, committed to the "conquests" of the 1974 revolution, and virulently anti-NATO.
Between the two poles of the ruling Democratic Alliance and the communist United People's Alliance is the Republican and Socialist Front (FRS), led by the Portuguese Socialist Party. The FRS sees itself as the moderating force in Portuguese politics, and is out to convince the electorate that the Democratic Alliance and the Communists left to fight it out alone would lead Portugal to a new totalitarianism.