Portuguese President promises to take off his military hat
When General Antonio Ramalho Eanes became Portugal's head of state in 1976, the first thing his advisers asked him to do was to stop wearing dark glasses. "You look too much like a South American dictator otherwise," one of them warned him. Keen to give the image of a European democrat, General Eanes dropped his old Army habit immediately.
More than four years later, the general began a second term as Portugal's president by announcing he would sever another, deeper tie with the military. By the end of February 1981, he told the Portuguese parliament at his swearing-in, Jan. 14, he will no longer be the chief of staff of the armed forces.
For a man who came to power by putting down an attempted military coup, giving up control of the armed forces is a gesture with symbolism. Except for the five months immediately following the 1974 revolution, the Portuguese armed forces have always been under the direct command of the country's president and have, ultimately, been his main source of power.
Having won two presidential elections, General Eanes no longer feels he needs the support of the military to justify his presence in the pink stucco presidential palace at Belem.
Pointing to his greatest achievement during his first mandate, President Eanes proudly told the 250 deputies of the Portuguese parliament that the situation in the armed forces was back to normal.
It was General Eanes who restored discipline in a military machine undermined by two years of revolution, the end of the colonial wars and a barrage of Marxist propaganda. Just to drive the point home, he had 5,000 troops in white gloves lining his route to parliament. For those who remembered the soldiers of the revolution -- scruffy, longhaired, bearded, their combat kits decorated with strings of bullets and bright scarves round their necks -- it was an amazing sight.
Portugal's soldier-President brought his country's armed forces fully back into NATO, ending the embarrassment caused to the alliance by Portugal's African wars and the uncertainties raised by the 1974 revolution. Politically, his break with the military comes at a right time.
The new prime minister, Francisco Pinto Balsemao, had said at the swearing-in of his Cabinet Jan. 9 that he was determined the armed forces should be brought under control of the elected government for the first time. General Eanes's departure from the military will also coincide with the end to military tutorship over Portugal's fledgling democratic institutions. The move will be formalized in the revision of the 1976 Constitution, which is the main task facing the new parliament.
The military's watchdog role will formally come to an end with the abolition of the Council of the Revolution.
All eyes are now turned on how successful President Eanes will prove in the field of purely civilian politics. The death of his biggest opponent, the late Prime Minister Francisco Sa Carneiro, and the consequent weakening of the ruling Democratic Alliance, has turned President Eanes into the final arbiter of Portugal's complicated political scene. He has a five-year mandate, whereas the parliament's life is only four years. In practice, whether the constitutional revision approved by parliament is adopted will ultimately depend on General Eanes's goodwill.
The late Mr. Sa Carneiro had warned the Portuguese that if General Eanes were reelected, they faced political, economic, and social chaos. Was it just an electoral threat? The answer must come from General Earnes, but, although he no longer wears dark glasses, he remains an enigma to most Portuguese, including those who reele cted him.