The Transition to Civilian Rule

The Transition to Civilian Rule

Elections were held on April 25, 1975, for the Constituent Assembly to draft a constitution. The PS won nearly 38 percent the vote, while the PPD took 26.4 percent. The PCP, which opposed the elections because its leadership expected to do poorly, won less than 13 percent of the vote. A democratic right-wing party, the Party of the Social Democratic Center (Partido do Centro Democrático Social--CDS), came in fourth with less than 8 percent. Despite the fact that the elections took place in a period of revolutionary ferment, most Portuguese voted for middle-class parties committed to pluralistic democracy.

Many Portuguese regarded the elections as a sign that democracy was being effectively established. In addition, most members of the military welcomed the beginning of a transition to civilian democracy. Some elements of the MFA, however, had opposed the elections, agreeing to them only after working out an agreement with political parties that the MFA's policies would be carried out regardless of election results.

Following the elections came the "hot summer" of 1975 when the revolution made itself felt in the countryside. Landless agricultural laborers in the south seized the large farms on which they worked. Many estates in the Alentejo were confiscated- -over 1 million hectares in all--and transformed into collective farms. In the north, where most farms were small and owned by those who worked them, such actions did not occur. The north's small farmers, conservative property-owners, violently repulsed the attempts of radical elements and the PCP to collectivize their land. Some farmers formed right-wing organizations in defense of private landownership, a reversal of the region's early welcoming of the revolution.

Other revolutionary actions were met with hostility, as well. In mid-July, the PS and the PPD withdrew from the fourth provisional government to protest antidemocratic actions by radical military and leftist political forces. The PS newspaper República had been closed by radical workers, causing a storm of protest both domestically and abroad. The PS and other democratic parties were also faced with a potentially lethal threat to the new freedom posed by the PCP's open contempt for parliamentary democracy and its dominance in Portugal's main trade union, Intersindical, or as it came to be known in 1977, the General Confederation of Portuguese Workers-National Intersindical (Confederação Geral dos Trabalhadores PortuguesesIntersindical Nacional--(CGTP-IN).

The United States and many West European countries expressed considerable alarm at the prospect of a Marxist-Leninist takeover in a NATO country. United States Secretary of State Henry Kissinger told PS leader Soares that he would probably be the "Kerensky [the Russian social-democratic leader whose short-lived rule was the prelude to a Bolshevik takeover] of Portugal." The result of these concerns was an influx of foreign financial aid into Portugal to shore up groups committed to pluralist parliamentary democracy.

By the time of the "hot summer" of 1975, several currents could be seen within the MFA. A moderate group, the Group of Nine, issued a manifesto in August that advocated nonaligned socialism along the lines of Scandinavian social democracy. Another group published a manifesto that criticized both the Group of Nine and those who had drawn close to the PCP and singled out Prime Minister Gonçalves for his links to the communists. These differences of opinion signaled the end of the fifth provisional government, in power only a month, under Gonçalves in early September. Gonçalves was subsequently expelled from the Council of the Revolution as this body became more moderate. The sixth provisional government was formed, headed by Admiral José Baptista Pinheiro de Azevedo; it included the leader of the Group of Nine and members of the PS, the PPD, and PCP. This government, which was to remain in power until July 1976, when the first constitutional government was formed, was pledged to adhere to the policies advocated by MFA moderates.

Evolving political stability did not reflect the country as a whole, which was on the verge of anarchy. Even the command structure of the military broke down. Political parties to the right of the PCP became more confident and increasingly fought for order, as did many in the military. The granting of independence to Mozambique in September 1975, to East Timor in October, and to Angola in November meant that the colonial wars were ended. The attainment of peace, the main aim of the military during all these months of political upheaval, was thus achieved, and the military could begin the transition to civilian rule. The polling results of the April 1975 constituent assembly elections legitimized the popular support given to the parties that could manage and welcome this transition.

An attempted coup by radical military units in November 1975 marked the last serious leftist effort to seize power. They were blocked, however, on November 25 after Colonel António dos Santos Ramalho Eanes declared a state of emergency. The revolutionary units were quickly surrounded and forced to surrender, about 200 extreme leftists were arrested, and COPCON was abolished. The glamour of revolutionary goals had faded somewhat, and people returned to their jobs and daily routines after eighteen months of political and social turmoil. A degree of compromise among competing political visions of how the new state should be organized was reached, and the constitution of 1976 was proclaimed on April 2, 1976. Several weeks later, on April 25, elections for the new parliament, the Assembly of the Republic, were held.

These elections could be said to be the definitive end of a period of revolution. Moderate democratic parties received most of the vote. Revolutionary achievements were not discarded, however. The constitution pledged the country to realize socialism. Furthermore, the constitution declared the extensive nationalizations and land seizures of 1975 irreversible. The military supported these commitments through a pact with the main political parties that guaranteed its guardian rights over the new democracy for four more years.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Portugal
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Estado_Novo_%28Portugal%29


Country Studies main page | Portugal Country Studies main page