Portugal swings right -- Cameiro back in power

Portugal's political pendulum, which swung first to the far left during the socialist revolution six years ago and then bounced sharply to the right, has lurched even further to the right in a surprise election result.

Despite forecasts that Portugal might be sliding back toward the left, the center-right coalition led by Francisco Sa Carneiro has been returned to power with a greatly increased majority.

The left, on the other hand, has suffered a major defeat. All the indications are that the next few months will see a major shake- up in the major parties of the Portuguese left. Both the Socialist party leader Mario Soares and Communist Party leader Alvaro Cunhal must be wondering where to go next.

Meanwhile, right-wingers overjoyed at the improved performance of the ruling Democratic Alliance (AD) in the Oct. 5 election spilled into the streets of Lisbon in a noisy celebration. In Oporto, Portugal's second-largest city, AD youths burnt the election stands of the Communist Party, who emerged as the biggest loser in the election, and tried to storm the offices of the extreme left-wing Popular Democratic Union (UDP), shouting "Death to communism."

As a result of the election the AD has strengthened its hold on parliament. But it faces the opposition of President Antonio Ramalho Eanes who is determined to stop the ruling party from carrying out controversial constitutional reforms and reopening nationalized sectors of the economy to private enterprise.

The AD is pledged to trim the state sector; take the military out of politics; and adopt strong pro-NATO and pro-European Community (EC) stands.

This is the second time that Mr. Carneiro has won an election in less than a year. Last December his Democratic Alliance (AD) became the first right-wing government to come to power in Portugal since the 1974 revolution. By the terms of the Portuguese Constitution, a full four-year legislative term could not begin until a further general election this month. Thus Mr. Carneiro was faced with a race against time to prove that his style and his policies were not only something radically new for Portugal, but that they also worked.

Carneiro fought his election campaign largely on the "successes" which he claimed during his short time in office. These included a substantial reduction of the inflation rate -- from 25 percent to below 19 percent, without a significant squeeze on salaries. Since last December the government has been raising pensions and the minimum wage bracket, and cutting income tax.

The election results indicate that practice matters more than rhetoric for the great mass of the population. In ideological terms the AD is slightly right of Mrs. Thatcher. Yet it can now with some justification claim to have convinced the working man where six years of socialist rule failed.

Nationwide voting patterns indicate support for the alliance cut across class lines. Some of the AD's major gains were in the previously Communist-dominated agrarian reform belt of the Alentejo and in working-class suburbs of Lisbon and Oporto.

The results also represent a major defeat for the mudslinging tactics pursued during the campaign by the opposition. Both the Socialist and Republican Front (FRS) and the communist United People's Alliance attacked Mr. Carneiro both for his alleged financial irregularities and his relationship with a Danish divorcee , with whom he lives while still being legally married to the Portuguese mother of his five children.

Carneiro appears to have emerged personally vindicated. He is now confirmed as Portugal's and one of Europe's most successful politicians.

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