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Wednesday 16 October 2019

Portugal mourns one of the founders of its democracy

Conservative politician Diogo Freitas do Amaral later became president of the UN General Assembly.

Diogo Freitas do Amaral (Kathy WIllens/AP)
Diogo Freitas do Amaral (Kathy WIllens/AP)

By Barry Hatton, Associated Press

Diogo Freitas do Amaral, a conservative politician who played a leading role in cementing democracy after Portugal’s 1974 Carnation Revolution and later became president of the UN General Assembly, has died aged 78.

The government announced his death on Thursday without providing further details.

Mr Freitas do Amaral was a co-founder and first leader of the Christian Democratic Party, formed barely three months after the army coup on April 25 1974.

The coup leaders ousted a four-decade dictatorship and promised to introduce parliamentary democracy, but their ambitions were slowed by political turmoil.

Mr Freitas do Amaral’s party helped to balance out the far-left fervour, led by the Portuguese Communist Party, which surged after the ousting of the dictatorship set up in the 1930s by Antonio Salazar.

He played a central role in helping to steer Portugal away from its radical course in the post-revolution years, which coincided with the Cold War and triggered fears in Western Europe and the US that the country, a Nato member, might align with Moscow.

Earlier this year, President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa described Mr Freitas do Amaral as “one of the fathers of Portuguese democracy.”

One of the fathers of Portuguese democracy Portugal's president on Diogo Freitas do Amaral

But 30 years later, Mr Freitas do Amaral was shunned by the party he helped create after he accepted the post of foreign minister in a Socialist Party government in 2005.

Christian Democrat officials took down his photograph from a wall in their Lisbon headquarters and mailed it across town to the Socialist Party.

Mr Freitas do Amaral said he was never again invited to a party event.

Mr Freitas do Amaral was “one of the founders of our democratic system,” Portuguese prime minister Antonio Costa said in a statement announcing his death, adding that his countrymen should “bow in homage” to him.

Mr Costa, a former colleague, said he was impressed by Mr Freitas do Amaral’s “legal knowledge, political experience and clarity and his deeply felt sense of state and democratic culture”.

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Lisbon (Nick Potts/PA)

The government will declare a national day of mourning on the day of the funeral, which is still to be arranged.

After Portugal’s first parliamentary elections with universal suffrage in 1976, Mr Freitas do Amaral served in a series of governments as deputy prime minister, foreign minister and defence minister.

He was a key member of the Democratic Alliance, which drew moderates from various parties to stand together in a 1979 election.

It won a majority in parliament.

Mr Freitas do Amaral, a professor of law, was one of the driving forces behind a new Constitution approved in 1982.

The initial post-revolution Constitution of 1976 was inspired by Marxism, calling for the nationalisation of the means of production.

It also provided for the coup’s military leaders to have an unelected power-sharing role in government.

The 1982 reform removed the ideological references, closed the military’s path to power, opened up the economy and created the Constitutional Court.

Mr Freitas do Amaral narrowly lost the 1986 presidential election, capturing 49% of the vote, to Socialist Party candidate Mario Soares.

He served as president of the UN General Assembly between 1995 and 1996, where he pressed member nations, especially the United States, to pay their outstanding dues.

He also loudly opposed the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.

PA Media

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