Portugal: Shades of Salazar

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Though the 36-year rule of Portugal's António de Oliveira Salazar ended last year, the old man is not yet aware of it. Still immobilized after a stroke and a coma 13 months ago, Salazar calls Cabinet meetings, and his old ministers faithfully attend—even though some of them are no longer in the Cabinet. No one has found the courage to tell the 80-year-old dictator that he has been replaced.

At times, in fact, it seems that he has not. This week voters in Europe's poorest and most calcified country went to the polls in what Salazar's successor, Premier Marcello Caetano, 63, billed as a "free election." Despite some liberalization of Portugal's election laws, the outcome was a foregone conclusion. Though a few opposition candidates had a chance of winning places in the National Assembly for the first time, it was inconceivable that Salazar's old National Union would lose more than half a dozen of its 130 Assembly seats, if that many. "The only trouble with the opposition is that it wants to take over the government," complained one party stalwart at a National Union rally last week. "That will never be permitted."

Guaranteed Defeat. Even under Salazar, "elections" of sorts were held regularly, and why not? The only time anyone ever piled up a sizable opposition vote was in 1958, when flamboyant General Humberto Delgado ran on the slogan: "I know this regime is rotten because I was once a part of it." Delgado won 23% of the vote. This year's chief opposition leader is Lawyer Mario Soares, 44, a thoughtful Socialist politician who went to jail twelve times under Salazar. Soon after Caetano became Premier, he brought Soares back from remote São Tomé island, where Salazar exiled him in 1968.

Though the regime eased censorship and extended the vote to women, all the cards were stacked in favor of the National Union. Allowed to operate only during a month-long official campaign period, the opposition barely had time to get organized. Only the National Union could take advantage of radio and newspaper ads; no one could use TV except Caetano. Rallies were allowed only indoors, and they were watched by political police.

The opposition was mathematically doomed anyway. In Portugal, political parties must mail out their own ballots. The eligible voters were named on the official registration lists, but nongovernment candidates were not allowed to see the lists long enough to record all the names on them. In the Lisbon election district, Scares' group managed to send ballots to only half of the 350,000 voters—thus guaranteeing defeat. What is more, opposition ballots were printed on nearly transparent paper that was clearly different from the heavier-stock used by the National Union, thus making the "secret ballot" a mockery.

Nevertheless, the campaign was quite a change for Portugal. In selecting National Union candidates, Caetano lowered his slate's average age from 57 to 48. He promised the people better housing, schools and social security.

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