A touch of Thatcher in Portugal

Portuguese Prime Minister Anibal Cavaco Silva resembles his British counterpart, Margaret Thatcher. Admirers say he is tough and talented, and loves to make decisions and to stick by them.

Critics say he is arrogant, authoritarian, lacking human warmth and compassion.

``I think he's got a lot of the demagogue in him,'' complains Joao Cravinho, a socialist leader. ``But I have to admit that he has overcome his timid, shy nature to emerge as a strong leader, enthusiastic, full of force.''

In Sunday's election, he became the first Portuguese politician ever to see his party win an absolute majority in parliament.

Dr. Cavaco Silva's free market devotion may be a diluted form of Thatcherism. No matter. Like the British leader, he has a single-minded devotion to modernizing his country by throwing off old, outdated mindsets.

``People don't find Cavaco Silva sympathetic,'' says Jaime Nogueira Pinto, a professor at Lisbon's Institute of Political Science. ``They find him tough. Like Mrs. Thatcher, he says no.''

This toughness stems from Cavaco Silva's unabashed competitiveness nurtured in a lower-middle class, street-tough upbringing. He was born 48 years ago last week in the small southern village of Boliqueime. His father owned a small gas station.

When he was 13, his father punished him for bad grades in school by sending him to work for the summer in the fields as a farm worker. Afterward, he was a superb student, earning a doctorate in economics from York University in 1973.

During most of the 1970s, he taught economics at Lisbon's Catholic University and served as Director of Research at the Bank of Portugal. Former students and bank colleagues remember him as aloof and distant.

``He was the type of teacher who lectured by looking down at his shoes,'' recalls a bank colleague. ``He was not popular here. But he was respected.''

In 1982, Cavaco Silva used this respect to take over the Social Democratic party. He emphasized his honesty, his modest life style - he lives in a middle-class Lisbon apartment with his wife and two children - and his economic abilities.

``His idea of charisma is to cite an economic statistic,'' comments one Western diplomat. ``During the present campaign, he has shown a bit more emotion, but Americans certainly would continue to find him boring.''

The dry formula appeals to Portugal's emerging Westernized middle class, which is eager to see its country rise from the bottom levels of economic achievement in Europe.

On policy matters, Cavaco Silva shies away from austere Thatcherism. He describes himself as a centrist and his victory call Sunday evening was marked by an appeal to ``represent all Portuguese.''

In the past, he has matched calls for privatizations of state industry with support for greater social benefits. When he was Finance Minister in 1980, he led the country on a consumption binge.

But his program is revolutionary, at least in spirit. He wants to overhaul his country's penchant for passivism and pessimism.

To do this, he paints himself as a strong leader, a hands-on type of leader who doesn't dawdle.

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