Consolidation of Democracy
The first elections for the new parliament, the Assembly of the Republic, were won by the PS. It took 36.7 percent of the vote, compared with the 25.2 percent for the PDP, 16.7 percent for the CDS, and 15.2 percent for the PCP. Elections for the presidency were held in June and won easily by General Eanes, who enjoyed the backing of parties to the right of the communists, the PS, the PPD, and the CDS.
Although the PS did not have a majority in the Assembly of the Republic, Eanes allowed it to form the first constitutional government with Soares as prime minister. It governed from July 23, 1976, to January 30, 1978. A second government, formed from a coalition with the CDS, lasted from January to August of 1978 and was also led by Soares. The PS governments faced enormous economic and social problems such as runaway inflation, high unemployment, falling wages, and an enormous influx of Portuguese settlers from Africa. Failure to fix the economy, even after adopting a painful austerity program imposed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), ultimately forced the PS to relinquish power. However, the PS could be seen as having been successful in that it governed Portugal democratically for two years and helped thereby to consolidate the new political system. After the collapse of the PS-CDS coalition government in July 1978, President Eanes formed a number of caretaker governments in the hope that they would rule until the parliamentary elections mandated by the constitution could be held in 1980. There were, therefore, three short-lived governments appointed by President Eanes. These were led by Prime Minister Alfred Nobre da Costa from August 28, to November 21, 1978; Carlos Mota Pinto from November 21, 1978, to July 31, 1979; and Maria de Lourdes Pintasilgo (Portugal's first woman prime minister) from July 31, 1979, to January 3, 1980.
The weakness of these governments and the failure of the PS and the PPD, now renamed the Social Democrat Party (Partido Social Democráta--PSD), to form a coalition government forced President Eanes to call for interim elections to be held in December 1979. Francisco Sá Carneiro, the dynamic leader of the PSD and a fierce personal rival of Soares, put together a coalition of his own PSD along with the CDS, the Popular Monarchist Party (Partido Popular Monárquico--PPM), and another small party to form the Democratic Alliance (Aliança Democrática- -AD). The AD downplayed its intentions to revise the constitution to reverse the nationalizations and land seizures of the mid- 1970s and advocated a moderate economic policy. The coalition won 45.2 percent of the vote in the elections, or 128 seats, for a majority of 3 in the 250-seat assembly. The PS, which had also formed an electoral coalition with several small left-wing groups, suffered a drubbing and won only 27.4 percent, a large drop compared with 1976 results. The PCP, in coalition with another left-wing party, gained slightly.
Sá Carneiro became prime minister in January 1980, and the tenor of parliamentary politics moved to the right as the government attempted to undo some of the revolution's radical reforms. The powers conferred on the presidency by the constitution of 1976 enabled President Eanes to block the AD's centrist economic policies. For this reason, the AD concentrated on winning enough seats in the October 1980 elections to reach a two-thirds majority to effect constitutional change and on electing someone other than Eanes in the presidential elections of December 1980.
Portuguese voters approved of the movement to the right, and in the parliamentary elections the AD coalition increased the number of its seats to 134, while the PS held steady at 74 seats and the PCP lost 6 seats for a total of 41. The AD's win was not complete, however, because President Eanes was easily reelected in December. In contrast to the election of 1976, when Eanes was supported by the PS and parties to its right, he was backed in 1980 by the PS, the PCP, and other left-wing parties. Voters admired Eanes for his integrity and obvious devotion to democracy. His election, however, made constitutional change less certain because the AD did not have by itself the required two- thirds majority. The AD also suffered a serious loss when its dynamic leader, Sá Carneiro, died in a plane crash just two days before the presidential election. His successor was Franciso Pinto Balsemão, the founder and editor of the Expresso newspaper.
The AD coalition remained in power until mid-1983, forming two governments with Balsemão as prime minister. In combination with the PS, which also desired fundamental changes in the political system, the AD was able to revise the constitution. Amendments were passed that enhanced the power of the prime minister and the Assembly of the Republic at the expense of the president and the military. The revised constitution was promulgated in September 1982.
Although the AD government had achieved its main objective of amending the constitution, the country's economic problems worsened, and the coalition gradually lost popular support. Balsemão also tired of the constant political skirmishing needed to hold the AD together and resigned in December 1982. Unable to choose a successor, the AD broke apart. Parliamentary elections in April 1983 gave the PS a stunning victory that increased its parliamentary seats to 101. After long negotiations, the PS joined with the PSD to form a governing coalition, the Central Bloc (Bloco Central), with Soares as prime minister.
The Central Bloc government was fragile from its beginning and lasted only two years. Faced with serious and worsening economic problems, the government had to adopt an unpopular austerity policy. Administrative and personality difficulties made relations within the government tense and resulted in bitter parliamentary maneuvers. Overshadowing these difficulties was the upcoming presidential election in early 1986. Soares made clear his ambition to succeed Eanes, who, according to the constitution, was not allowed to seek a third consecutive term. A split within the PSD over its presidential candidate ended the coalition government in June 1985.
In new assembly elections held in October 1985, the PS, blamed by the public for the country's severe economic problems, such as a 10 percent fall in wages since 1983, suffered serious losses and lost almost half its seats in the Assembly of the Republic. The PCP's electoral coalition lost six seats; the PSD won thirteen more seats because of new leadership; and the CDS lost almost a third of its seats. The big winner was a party formed by supporters of President Eanes, the Party of Democratic Renovation Party (Partido Renovador Democrático--PRD), which, although only months old, won nearly 18 percent of the vote and forty-five seats. The party's victory stemmed from the high regard Portuguese voters had for President Eanes.
No party emerged from the October 1985 elections with anything even close to an absolute majority. Hence, the 1985-87 period was unstable politically. The new head of the PSD, economist Aníbal Cavaco Silva, as prime minister headed a minority PSD government that managed to survive for only seventeen months. Its success was attributed partly to support from the PRD, which as a young party wished to establish itself, although it was a motion of censure presented by this party in the spring of 1987 that eventually brought the government down. Cavaco Silva also benefited from the internal dissension of other parties.
The presidential election of 1986 did not yield a winner in the first round. The candidate of the CDS and the PSD, Diogo Freitas do Amaral, won 46.3 percent of the vote compared with 25.4 percent for Mário Soares. Freitas do Amaral, the candidate of a united right, profited from the left's mounting of three candidates. In the two-candidate runoff election in mid-February, Soares won with 51.3 percent of the vote, getting the support of most left-wing voters. The PCP supported him as the lesser of two evils, even though Soares repeatedly reminded voters that he, perhaps more than anyone else, had prevented the communists from coming to power in the mid-1970s.
Cavaco Silva came to have full control of his party, the PSD. As prime minister, he governed boldly and pushed, through his influence in the parliament, for a liberalization of the economy. He was fortunate in that external economic trends and the infusion of funds from the European Community (EC) after Portugal became a member in 1986 enlivened the country's economy and began to bring an unaccustomed prosperity to Portuguese wage earners. Confident therefore that his party could win in parliamentary elections, Cavaco Silva maneuvered his political opponents into passing a vote of censure against his government in April 1987. Instead of asking for a new government composed of a variety of parties on the left, President Soares called for elections in July.
Cavaco Silva had judged the political situation correctly. The PSD won just over 50 percent of the vote, which gave it an absolute majority in the parliament, the first single-party majority since the restoration of democracy in 1974. The strong mandate would enable Cavaco Silva to put forward a more clearly defined program and perhaps govern more effectively than his predecessors. The emergence of a single-party government supported by a parliamentary majority was for many observers the coming of age of Portuguese democracy.
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