Page 7, 26th September 1969

26th September 1969
Page 7
Page 7, 26th September 1969 — Fresh wind blowing as Portugal faces crucial election test

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Locations: Belem, Lisbon


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Fresh wind blowing as Portugal faces crucial election test

A YEAR has passed since Dr. Salazar. Portugal's Prime Minister for 36 years, collapsed with the illness that has ended his public life. His successor, Prof, Marcello Caetano, was appointed at the end of September 1968, and now faces his biggest test to date in the general election due for October 26.

The emergence of Caetano as head of the government was generally received in Portugal as a symbol of promise. A statesman and scholar of high personal integrity and brilliant intellect, he commanded respect not only among the regime's supporters, but also among the (unofficial) opposition, who were prepared, at least, to give him his chance.

He was, of course. a man of the regime himself, one of the architects of Salazar's Esiado Novo—a corporative system described as "organic" democracy. But he was also a man of independent mind, and his wide experience had exposed him to influences which promised more liberal approaches, albeit within the authoritarian framework.

In the event, he has at least achieved a peaceful transition of power, which few would have guaranteed in advance. His first year has been marked by new economic policies with the stress on expansion, a departure from the deflationary disciplines favoured by Salazar.

In conservative eyes, Caetano moves too fast, in progressive eyes not fast enough. The Portuguese "climate" today, however, is more relaxed than it has been for 40 years. The voice of protest can be openly heard with impunity. Police activity has been severely curtailed—it was already running down three years ago—and censorship eased.

There is not yet a free Press, but the opposition, who legally have no corporate existence, have had new opportunities of assembly in the past 12 months. and an important Republican Congress held in the north some months ago was extensively reported in the papers: an event unthinkable 12 months before.

Despite the northern frontier wars in Angola and Mozambique, and the more pervading rebel deployment in Portuguese Guinea, Portugal remains rooted in the Africa whence, eight years ago. the world predicted her expulsion in a matter of months. The two major African provinces are undergoing an economic boom. more strides have been made in education and social services. and the African's living standards are rising.

The general tone, then. is one of cautious advance, and Caetano has brought new young blood into the administration, notably in the planning and economic departments. His programme is based on a reconciliation of the continuity principle with a gradual but genuine "openness" to the future. He still believes in the corporative fas distinct from the corporate) state, and sees its roots in traditional Catholic social teaching.

His work goes far beyond a holding operation, but a sober judge might see him as a productive hyphen between past and future: a recent past, but with roots too deep after 40 years to allow for an overdramatic leap into what might be a return to the chaos of the days before Salazar.

Republicans, Socialists and Christian Democrats. on the other hand, are in their different ways crying for more radical change: the restoration of political parties, a democratic constitution, a modern system of social welfare, a secular system of education. a more "realistic" African policy, heavier taxation of the rich, and varying degrees of nationalisation.

These "oppositionists" are mostly responsible, professional men. frustrated in their ambition, not to subvert the regime, but to make their contribution to public life. and to restore the ferment of ideas which yielded. a century ago, Portugal's finest literary hour. Their "programmes" are often incoherent or too abstract, but Caetano believes that the corporative society could still give an effective outlet for the quality and substance underlying their prolific eloquence.

They retort that Salazar's corporative theory was never really put into practice. and that its "round table" approaches to national problems are not viable in modern conditions. They long for the tensions that, as they see it, stimulate creativity, and the parliamentary system of other Western countries.

Could Portugal take the strain of this? Caetano, and the middle-of-the-road hard core of all ages and classes which supports him, would argue that the country's history is against it. and that the aim should be, not to discard, but to employ the nation's highly developed critical faculty within the existing, stabilising framework. How far the nation is ready to go along with him should emerge in the coming elections.

As matters stand, the National Assembly is composed of directly elected members, who can be sponsored by no organisation other than the National Union, the organ of the regime. The only other way to membership is to stand for election as an individual.

The Assembly meets for only three months in the year and, while it can initiate legislation, the country is largely governed in practice by the Govern ment's decree-laws. The Assembly can block decreelaws issued during its sittings, . and its legislative powers could overturn the effect of decree• laws made in the other nine months of the year. But this has not happened in practice. so far.

The election results, and the constitution of the new Assembly, will not directly affect the position of the Prime Minister and the Cabinet, who are all appointed by the President of the Republic. But a live Assembly could further or impede the Government's policies.

Its Bills are subject to the Opiniones of the Corporative Chamber, which is composed of representatives of the labour.

professional and cultural organisations in the country; and these comments, while not formally binding on the Assembly, do exercise discernible influences on the form of the Acts as eventually passed.

The question is whether the coming elections will have the effect of creating a new Assembly with teeth. In recent years, the restrictions impeding individual candidates who dissented from the regime were such that the opposition withdrew in despair from one election after another.

This time, there is a very fair chance that the actual polling will be fairly conducted and, although the opposition are still far from satisfied, the theoretically free-for-all month of cam

paigning allowed before election day is likely to be more of a reality than it has been for many years, and livelier than anything since the Delgado presidential campaign of 1958.

The opposition are definitely standing and have put up lists in Lisbon, Oporto, Braga, Aveiro, Setubal, Leirai. Vila Real, Viano do Castelo, Faro and Coimbra, and others are expected.

The Coimbra opposition list is led by Prof, Henrique de Barros, Caetano's brother-inlaw and the son of a famous Republican, Leiria is led by the distinguished lawyer Vasco de Gama Fernandes, who has often figured for the defence in major political trials.

Candidates standing well to the left include the woman engineer Virginia Moura (Oporto), Jose Tangarrinha (Lisbon), and the famous Fr. Felicidades, the militant campaigner for social justice and pastor of Belem, who was suspended by his superiors last year for insubordination.

He will stand as a symbol for the heartening young priests, with strongly developed social consciences, who have arisen in Portugal in recent years, but who are precluded by ecclesiastical ruling from standing as parliamentary candidates.

Although they do not exist as parties, the Christian Democrats (associated with men like Dr. Sousa Tavares) and the Socialists (led by Dr. Mario Soares) are the best organised of the conventional groupings. The small but efficient clandestined Communist Party will doubtless seize the opportunity of the campaign for a certain amount of overt agitation.

The best antidote to the Communists is the emergence of some Catholic workers' movements, militant and leftist, and now growing in importance, anti-regime but non-subversive.

Portugal is still having to learn how to live with this concept of an opposition which can confront the Government without wishing to subvert the State. Caetano will have rendered an enormous service to his country's future if he fosters this development by taking the opposition seriously, and controlling his besetting temptation to a certain intellectual snobbisme.

The odds are. in any event. that in the elections the nation will plump for Caetano and his policies. He has gathered stature over the year. at home and abroad. His visits to Brazil, Angola and Mozambique were outstandingly successful. He has begun to re-heat the economy, and people are too preoccupied with "getting on," in a phase where the craftsman can write his own cheque, to have much time for political diversion and upheaval.

In any case, there is no one of comparable stature to handle the big questions now facing Portugal. both in Africa and in Europe, to re-negotiate defence agreements with the United States, and to maintain the internal balance Portugal needs as she tentatively moves into a new chapter of her history.

The hope is, however, that the new Assembly will contain enough lively dissentients to give it a far more representative character than it has had in the past, and that it will exert far greater influence at the level of decision. If this happens, it will be proof that Marcello Caetano is leading the country to "participation."

One of the gravest issues at stake is whether or not Portugal should abandon her overseas provinces. Caetano favours a policy of continuing the social and economic evolution of the African provinces on the basis of the Portuguese presence and the development of an authentic inter-racial society.

In a recent TV fireside chat. the Premier urged the electors' to make it plain beyond any doubt what they really want in this matter. Do they want to stay in Africa or not?

It seems possible that he would not eventually reiect a solution, which many responsible Portuguese favour, on the lines of a Portuguese Commonwealth in which the African provinces would enjoy autonomy, while remaining within the escudo area, and doubtless sharing with the Metropolis a common defence and financial policy. with special trading arrangements.

Many of the opposition, however, believe that this should not he left to a longterm and largely unpredictable evolution, but that a firm deadline should he given for selfdetermination, perhaps some years ahead. The provinces would then decide for themselves what they wanted to do. and meanwhile special steps would he taken to prepare all citizens, black and white, for intelligent participation in an appropriate referendum.

At present, the African provinces have merely advisory Assemblies of their own, but they send representatives to the National Assembly in Lisbon.

However. the Africans only a minority representation within the local assemblies. and the conditions for eligibility to vote still exclude the vast majority of African citizens. The onnosition in Portugal is hound to press for a ranid improvement of this . situation. and Caetano is likely to respond, albeit gradually.

The rebel movements in Angola and Mozambique are not representative, and in each case operate through seminomadic border tribes which are unpopular with the many other tribal formations in the two countries. Conditions within Angola and Mozambique are peaceful, but. with the rising, belated, tide of education, African nationalist feeling is hound to assert itself increasingly.

Will the Africans accept the inter-racial principle. in which, in theory. advancement is open to anyone, black or white who proves himself, or will they demand African majority rule in the near future?

The answer will turn on the speed and authenticity with which the Portuguese involve the educated African in the upper echelons of power and influence. The answer may still lie in their hands—after all, the African in those countries has been used to the white man's presence for 500 years—but time is running out.

Economically, Angola and Mozambique are booming with discoveries of oil in Cabinde which have turned the region into an African Texas, and rapid exploitation of the extensive mineral resources in both countries.

Together, they show an 80 per cent rise in exports since 1960, and Angola will shortly be one of the world's largest producers of iron ore. while her oil output is likely to rise to 71 million tons a year.

The Cunene River scheme in Angola is expected to irrigate 500,000 Lectares and to resettle 500,000 people, with less than a third of them employed in the primary sector: a major step to leading the African population into a market economy. The scheme involves the construction of no less than 27 dams.

Mozambique's balance of payments would be favourable but for the sanctions on Rhodesia and the losses arising, notably, from the closure of the Beira-Umtali oil pipeline. Twelve companies, Portuguese and foreign are prospecting for oil and the SONAREP refinery expects to treble its output to 2.5 million tons a year.

Fresh deposits of natural gas, iron ore and copper have been discovered. The current development plan envisages rising production of a range of a dozen minerals, including asbestos and bauxite; there is even some gold and silver.

The highlight of the future is the £30 million scheme for damming the Zambesi at Cabora-Bassa, and for producing power at twice the rate and half the price obtaining at Kariba.

Contracts for the construction work have been signed with a Franco-German consortium, and the project. which allows for extensive irrigation of the surrounding areas. could result in new settlements for

over a million people.

Foreign confidence in the stability of Portuguese Africa is evidenced by the growing investment there by American. Japanese, German, Dutch, Swiss and Swedish firms.

As reports by the ILO and WHO have shown, African people's living standards are rising, and wage rates and social conditions, while inferior to those of Rhodesia and South Africa. are an improvement on most of the non-white African states.

Foreign observers who visit these countries usually return convinced of the potential for a viable inter-racial society. provided the Portuguese keep their promises and close the perennial gap betwen blueprint and achievement.

The progress of the past eight years, in some ways dramatic, is encouraging, but, in the field of education and the creation of free political expression for all Africans, the Portuguese must pull out all the stops.

The rapid advance of primary and technical education has far outstripped the development of centres for higher studies. The two universities are excellent but few Africans go there yet. It is at this point that the wedge has to be driven in.

Back home in Portugal, the volume has risen by roughly a hundred per cent in the period 1960-67. The escudo area maintains its traditionally favourable balance of. payments, and the sluggish growth of the I 96668 period has received new impetus by the Caetano Government's economic legislation this year.

For too long, financial stability was purchased at the price of economic expansion and welfare services, but a boost has now been given to investors by a shift of stress from short to medium-term credits and improved export insurance facilities.

Gold and foreign exchange reserves stand high at £533m., and the current development plan is giving special encouragement to engineering, chemicals, textiles and the processing industries. The Plan's prescrip

tion for an annual growth of seven per cent is likely to be met this year. Oil refining and steel production is stepping up. and the LISNAVE shipyard now caters for the largest of the world's oil tankers,

There are 600 foreign companies at work in Portugal today, and job opportunities are such that for the craftsman, wages are constantly rising. The unskilled and white collar worker remains depressed, and the big headache is the rural sector where 34 per cent of the labour force yields only 17 per cent of the gross national product.

Agricultural wages have leaped, largely because internal and external migration has put rural labour at a premium. The most pressing need is for modernisation of agricultural techniques, the development of cooperatives, and the regrouping of unproductive smallholdings.

The special tariff privilages accorded to Portugal by EFTA will expire in 1980, and• if

Britain enters the EEC, Portugal's trading outlets here may be imperilled. It is this which fastens Portugal's eye on Africa more than ever. But an early breakthrough to a serious growth economy at home is a number one priority for the planners if they are to guard against all eventualities.

The greatest obstacle to growth has been the lethargy, especially in the investment field, which wrapped itself round the declining years of Dr. Salazar's rule. Caetano's first year has given the country a discernible shot in the arm. and despite all the complaints one meets in a country which still has the second lowest per capita income in Europe, a fresh wind is undoubtedly blowing.

Caetano, then, has made a useful start and the door is wide open to the foreign investor who has something to contribute and is not just a getrich-quick merchant.

Meanwhile, there Is reason to hope that the coming election campaign may offer Portugal the opportunity for the liveliest exercise in public self-criticism she has known for a long time.

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