PORTUGAL'S new man at the helm approaches a set of awesome problems with brimming self-confidence. Anibal Cavaco Silva is, as he quickly tells you, the first Portuguese prime minister who is not a lawyer. He is a lean and athletic man (he was a university hurdling champion and is today an avid jogger), and an economist by profession. He thinks he has a program to revitalize Portugal's sagging economy, the No. 1 problem. The challenge is formidable, for although Mr. Cavaco Silva's Social Democratic Party outpointed other parties in last month's elections, he still heads only a minority government.
Undaunted, Prime Minister Cavaco Silva thinks he has a window of opportunity of about a hundred days. He is gambling that the other parties will not block him, on grounds ``there is no other alternative. They know they cannot form another government without the communists,'' who took 15 percent of the recent vote.
Basically he wants to move away a little from the economic belt-tightening that did in his predecessors, the Socialist Party of M'ario Soares.
This has to be done while keeping Portugal's foreign deficit under control. Cavaco Silva thinks he can promote investment. Last year capital investment dropped 20 percent. He favors private enterprise and a free-market economy, and he thinks he can persuade entrepreneurs to keep their money in the country and take risks on behalf of expansion. But it is not now possible to denationalize, he says sadly; he does, however, favor ``disinvestment in some companies.''
He wants sweeping changes in the monetary and budgetary systems. He knows he is battling public disillusionment from a string of economic setbacks that started when Portugal threw off totalitarianism a decade ago.