The Presidential Election of 1976
The Carnation Revolution and the opposition to the coup of November 25 had been led by soldiers, and this reality made an immense psychological and social impact on civilian voters, and led to widespread acceptance that another soldier should become President.
The position of Eanes as Army Chief gave him both a leading role and visibility, and his character of honesty and integrity and his service record were on public display. Although he maintained that he did not want even to consider becoming President of the Republic, he was pressed by his colleagues on the Conselho da Revolução and, after Sá Carneiro of the PPD had also mentioned his name, he was persuaded to announce his candidacy for President of the Republic on May 14, 1976. His slogan was “Muitos comprometem, Eanes cumpre” (Many make promises; Eanes delivers).
Political support for his candidacy ranged from the Socialists on the left to the parties on the extreme right and, during the campaign, he presented himself as a man of courage.
At a rally in Évora, gunshots were heard (one person died of gunshot wounds) and Eanes immediately climbed onto the roof of his car, adopting a challenging attitude and presenting himself as a target. On June 27, 1976, Eanes won 61.59% of the vote. Most of Portugal voted solidly for him, except for the Alentejo which voted for the communist and independent candidates.
At the age of 41, with a young family and a young and attractive wife, Eanes brought a breath of fresh air to Portuguese politics. He and his family wanted to remain in their family home in Lisbon, but public pressure forced the move to Belém Palace, the official residence of the President.
Soon after his election, he was also appointed CEMGFA, chief of all of Portugal’s armed forces. Eanes now found himself not only President of the Republic, but chief of the nation’s armed forces, and President of the Conselho da Revolução. He had suddenly become the most powerful and influential man in Portugal.
In his first term as President, his priorities were to consolidate the democratic processes; to normalise the Armed Forces; to recognise the difficulties of the retornados (Portuguese who had left the former Portuguese colonies in Africa); to normalise relations with the new Lusophone African nations; and to reassure NATO partners of Portugal’s continuing commitment.
Eanes expressed his preference that his first external state visit should be to Spain, which had been alarmed by the left-wing disturbances in Portugal during the Revolution. The King and Queen of Spain also visited Lisbon in 1978, and one photo shows them in the Eanes’ sitting room, with Maria Manuela and the two young Eanes boys.
A sad duty for the President was the aftermath of January 1, 1980, when the islands of Terceira, Graciosa and São Jorge in the Azores were devastated by an earthquake. President Eanes was quickly on the scene, showing genuine concern for the victims, and grieving for the 61 people killed.
During his first mandate, Eanes presided over seven governments, and four days before the day of voting for the Presidential Election of 1980, Prime Minister Sá Carneiro was killed in an air crash.
Eanes took advice and, with the support of the political parties, went ahead with the elections, in which he won a second mandate with 56.4% of the vote. It is noticeable from his election posters that, in 1976, Eanes campaigned as an army officer, where in the 1980 contest he was dressed as a civilian.
The most important event of the second Eanes mandate was the revision of the Constitution in 1982, which abolished the Conselho da Revolução. At the same time, the role of the President as supreme commander of the armed forces became honorary.
The constitutional revision also reduced the powers of the President to intervene in external politics, an area which was now reserved for the elected government. These changes limited the power of independent action of the President, and Eanes clearly felt constricted by them.
Eanes entered into contact with the EEC, leading to the Treaty of Adherence to the EEC in June 1985 and his last state visit was to China in May 1985, where he discussed the looming issue of the surrender of Macau.
Eanes was determined to leave an award for achievements in the field of culture. He instituted the Ordem da Liberdade, and decorated José Cardoso Pires, David Mourão-Ferreira, Natália Correia, Miguel Torga and the Brazilian Jorge Amado.
Partido Renovador Democrático (PRD)
On leaving office on March 9, 1986, Eanes took over the leadership of the PRD, which was intended to counter the PS (Socialist Party) in the centre left of political life, but also to give Eanes a chance to remain in the world of Portuguese politics.
In the elections of 1985, the PRD had gained 18% of votes and severely challenged the Socialists, but, two years later, PRD took only 4.9% of the vote. Eanes consequently resigned the leadership.
José António Saraiva, director of the newspaper Expresso, said: “The great contribution of Eanes as President was to oblige the soldiers to leave the streets and return to their barracks. The country that had been on the verge of chaos returned to civilised behaviour. It may be that the energy and determination of Eanes in 1975 and 1976 avoided a bloodbath in Portugal. His great mistake was to believe at the end of his mandate that he could found his own political party. He wanted to be what he never could be. The country saw him as a soldier, and he wanted to transform himself into a civilian. The country saw him as a referee, and he wanted to become a player. That is the reason that his plan failed.”
It is possible to feel some vicarious frustration on the part of the ex-President. Having occupied the highest military and civilian posts in the country, how should he now occupy his time? Since completing his two terms as President of the Republic, Eanes has been a member of the Conselho do Estado (equivalent to the Privy Council in Britain) and President of the Council of Trustees of ISCTE (Instituto Universitário de Lisboa).
In 2006, Eanes presented his doctoral thesis at the University of Navarre in Spain. It had taken him 10 years to write the 2000 pages. Its title is “Sociedade civil e poder político em Portugal”. He was the first ex-President to study for a doctoral degree, and there is no other European ex-President who has done anything similar.
In the year 2000, when the government offered him the position of honorary Marshal of the Army, he refused, but without false modesty, he said. He himself had proposed both ex-Presidents Spínola and Costa Gomes for Marshal, and he did not consider himself their equal.
In 2008, it became known that General Ramalho Eanes had refused to accept back pay of about €1 million. On October 11, 2010, he accepted from the University of Lisbon an honorary doctorate on the occasion of the celebration of the centenary of the University. This date coincided with the celebrations of the centenary of the Republic of Portugal.
António Ramalho Eanes’ qualities of duty, honour and honesty resonated with the people of Portugal who twice expressed their support for him at the ballot box. His military background, together with negligible political experience, led to unfortunate conflicts with party political leaders in government. For example, he gave a speech on April 25, 1978 of which Soares commented: “It was the beginning of eanismo; ambiguous, hesitant and confused, as he always was.”
Eanes never made any type of negative comment or reaction about Mário Soares, but he did admit that there was conflict between them. He had high regard for Sá Carneiro as a statesman and implied that he was closest to the views of Cavaco Silva.
As a measure of his honesty and sense of honour, it is rumoured that, during his period as President, Eanes would accept no personal gifts and insisted that everything he acquired, down even to complimentary boxes of matches, should be displayed in the Presidential Museum as public property.
Maria Manuela also said the Republic gave a miserly allowance for the President to perform his state functions, and that the couple often subsidised the state out of their own pockets.
António dos Santos Ramalho Eanes created a Portugal in his own image, popular but without populism, rigorous but not repressive. By the end of the Eanes era, Portugal had emerged as a stable democracy, and was on the point of entering the European Community.
Since that time 45 years ago, very little has changed in the Portuguese political landscape. For that reason, we can say that as a military man, General Ramalho Eanes was also a very successful politician, with an enduring legacy.
By Lynne Booker