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Francisco de Sá Carneiro

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Francisco de Sá Carneiro

His Excellency
Francisco Sá Carneiro
109th Prime Minister of Portugal
In office
3 January 1980 – 4 December 1980
President António Ramalho Eanes
Deputy Diogo Freitas do Amaral
Preceded by Maria de Lourdes Pintasilgo
Succeeded by Diogo Freitas do Amaral
President of the Social Democratic Party
In office
1978 – 4 December 1980
Preceded by José Menéres Pimentel
Succeeded by Francisco Pinto Balsemão
In office
6 May 1974 – 1978
Preceded by Party founded
Succeeded by António de Sousa Franco
Deputy Minister
In office
17 May 1974 – 17 July 1974
Prime Minister Adelino da Palma Carlos
Preceded by Mario Morais de Oliveira
Succeeded by António de Almeida Santos
Minister without portfolio
In office
16 May 1974 – 17 July 1974
Prime Minister Adelino da Palma Carlos
Preceded by Francisco Pereira de Moura
Succeeded by Ernesto Melo Antunes
Personal details
Born (1934-07-19)19 July 1934
Porto, Portugal
Died 4 December 1980(1980-12-04) (aged 46)
Camarate, Loures, Portugal
Political party Social Democratic Party
Other political
Democratic Alliance
(coalition when Prime Minister; 1979–80)
Liberal Wing (1968–73)
Spouse(s) Isabel Sá Carneiro (separated)
Domestic partner Ebbe Merete Seidenfaden "Snu" Abecassis
Occupation Lawyer
Religion Catholic

Francisco Manuel Lumbrales de Sá Carneiro, GCTE, GCC, GCL (Portuguese:  ( ); 19 July 1934 – 4 December 1980) founded the Portuguese Social Democratic Party in 1974 (the year of the Portuguese Carnation Revolution) and was elected Prime Minister of Portugal in January 1980, but only held office for eleven months, dying in a plane crash with his partner, Snu Abecassis, on 4 December 1980. A parliamentary inquiry said in 2004 that there was evidence of a bomb in the aircraft,[1][2] after a 1995 inquiry had concluded there was evidence of sabotage.[3]


Sá Carneiro was born in Porto, Vitória, the third of the five children of lawyer José Gualberto Chaves Marques de Sá Carneiro (born 31 August 1897 in Barcelos) and wife Maria Francisca Judite Pinto da Costa Leite (born 29 March 1908) of the Counts of Lumbrales in Spain.


A lawyer by training, Sá Carneiro became a member of the puppet National Assembly in 1969[4] and, in turn, one of the leaders of the "Liberal Wing" which attempted to work for the gradual transformation of António de Oliveira Salazar's dictatorship into a Western European democracy.

In May 1974, a month after the Carnation Revolution, Sá Carneiro founded the Popular Democratic Party (PPD), together with Francisco Pinto Balsemão, Joaquim Magalhães Mota, Carlos Mota Pinto, João Bosco Mota Amaral, Alberto João Jardim, António Barbosa de Melo and António Marques Mendes, and became its secretary-general. The PPD was soon renamed the Social Democratic Party (PSD); despite Sá Carneiro's original claims to be leading a left-of-centre party, he and the party soon drifted to the right. He was minister without portfolio in a number of provisional governments, and was elected as a deputy to the Constitutional Assembly the next year.

In 1976, he was elected to the Assembly of the Republic. In November 1977, he resigned his office as president of the party, only to be reelected to that office the next year.

In the general election of late 1979, he led the Democratic Alliance, a coalition of his Social Democratic Party, the right-wing Democratic and Social Centre Party, and two smaller parties, to victory. The Alliance polled 45.2 percent of the popular vote and gained 128 of the 250 seats in the Assembly of the Republic; 75 of these were from the PSD. President António Ramalho Eanes subsequently called on him to form a government on 3 January 1980, and formed Portugal's first majority government since the Carnation Revolution of 1974. In a second general election held in October that year, the Democratic Alliance increased its majority. The Alliance received 47.2 percent of the popular vote and 134 seats, 82 of them from the PSD. Sá Carneiro's triumph appeared to augur well for the presidential election two months later, in which Sá Carneiro was supporting António Soares Carneiro (no relation).


Francisco de Sá Carneiro, by Patrick Swift, 1980; Following his election Sá Carneiro commissioned Swift to paint his portrait

His victory was short-lived, however. On 4 December 1980, while on his way to a presidential election rally in Porto, the Cessna 421 he was on crashed into a building in Camarate, Loures, soon after takeoff from Lisbon Airport. Eyewitnesses claimed they saw pieces falling from the plane just moments after it took off. Rumours have continued to fuel conspiracy theories that the crash was in fact an assassination, but no firm evidence has come to light. There were even different theories as to whom would have been the target of such an assassination, as Francisco de Sá Carneiro was travelling with the Defence Minister, Adelino Amaro da Costa, who had said he had documents relating to the October surprise conspiracy theory and was planning on taking them to the United Nations General Assembly.

Dependent to a considerable extent on Sá Carneiro's personal popularity, the Democratic Alliance was unable to maintain its momentum in the wake of his death. Faced with a national crisis, the public rallied behind the incumbent President, António Ramalho Eanes, who easily defeated the Alliance candidate in the presidential election a few days later.

The airport where Sá Carneiro was heading has been named after him as Francisco de Sá Carneiro Airport, despite objections that it would be in bad taste to name an airport after someone who died in a plane crash.


He was married to Isabel Maria Ferreira Nunes de Matos (born Porto, Miragaia, 1 October 1936), and had five children:

  • Francisco Nunes de Matos de Sá Carneiro, unmarried and without issue
  • Isabel Maria Nunes de Matos de Sá Carneiro, unmarried and without issue
  • Maria Teresa Nunes de Matos de Sá Carneiro, and had two sons:
  • José Nunes de Matos de Sá Carneiro (born Porto, Cedofeita, 1 April 1963), married in Mealhada, Luso, on 8 September 1991 Isabel Maria Guedes de Macedo Girão (born Porto, Ramalde, 25 January 1965), and had an only daughter:
  • Pedro Nunes de Matos de Sá Carneiro (born Porto, 12 September 1964), married to Maria Benedita de Matos Chaves Pinheiro Torres, of the Barons of a Torre de Pero Palha, born on 28 May 1967, and had an only daughter:
    • Maria Teresa Pinheiro Torres de Sá Carneiro (born Porto, 17 August 2000)

Later in life he lived together with Snu Abecassis, who died in the same accident as Sá Carneiro.

Ideological assessment and legacy

Sá Carneiro started his political life in the youth of the Christian Socialism in general. He was very influenced by catholic Personalism[6] and Humanism (especially its Christian version).

Sá Carneiro tried to adapt the social-democratic ideas of the likes of Eduard Bernstein, Karl Kautsky, and the post-1945 SPD to the cultural context of Portugal[7] and its traditionally Catholic society. The Godesberg Program had a very important influence in his social democratic thought as it became the model for his party and its cut with Marxist socialism.

Despite having an anti-collectivist and anti-statist party with an emphasis on personal rights and duties that was responsible for privatizing the industrial sectors nationalized during the revolutionary period,[8] he increased social spending during his term,[9] supported land reform and its redistribution in Alentejo[10] and he was proud that his party had been adopted by the working, middle-class blue-collar worker and middle-low class workers and that his party defended "the construction of a socialist society in liberty".[11] Due to all these specificities, he called his party's ideology "Portuguese Social Democracy".

He was recognized as populist by both supporters,[12] neutral analysts,[13] and opponents.[14]


Sá Carneiro was the author of various works, among them:

  • Uma Tentativa de Participação Política (An Attempt of Political Participation) (1973)
  • Por uma Social-Democracia Portuguesa (For a Portuguese Social Democracy) (1975)
  • Poder Civil; Autoridade Democrática e Social-Democracia (Civilian Power; Democratic Authority and Social Democracy (1975)
  • Uma Constituição para os Anos 80: Contributo para um Projecto de Revisão (A Constitution for the 1980s: Contribution for a Project of Revision) (1979).


  1. ^ Associated Press, 6 December 2004, New tests indicate sabotage in 1980 air crash that killed Portuguese PM
  2. ^ Investigative Commission: 1980 Portugal Crash Was Sabotage
  3. ^ David Elsner, Chicago Tribune, 8 October 1995, Premier's Body Exhumed In Inquiry
  4. ^ "Index Sa". Rulers. Retrieved 16 June 2013. 
  5. ^ Official PDP/SDP Sá Carneiro's death 25th Anniversary documentary II on YouTube, 1:44 – 1:58
  6. ^ "X CONGRESSO da TSD – Trabalhadores Social Democratas (Social Democratic Workers)". Retrieved 7 January 2008.  (Portuguese), pg. 7: «O sindicalismo que defendemos e procuramos praticar tem esta matriz social democrata e personalista. A sociedade que queremos ajudar a construir tem neste pensamento os seus alicerces. (...) Como pensou e defendeu Francisco Sá Carneiro.» [«The syndicalism we defend and try to practice has this social democratic and personalist matrix. The society that we want to help to build has in this thought its foundations. (...) As thought and defended Francisco Sá Carneiro.»]
  7. ^ "X CONGRESSO da TSD".  pg. 6: «Sá Carneiro sabia que não há modelos de ideário político que se transponham mecanicamente de umas sociedades para as outras. Foi assim que, embora tomando em consideração o pensamento social democrata reformista de teóricos da Europa germânica e anglo-saxónica, concebeu um projecto de social democracia adaptado à idiossincrasia do povo português e à sua tradição histórica, tão marcada de experiência personalista.» («Sá Carneiro knew that there were not models of political ideary that transposed mechanically from some societies for the others. It was like this that, though taking in consideration the social democratic Reformist thought of the theoreticians of Germanic and Anglo-Saxon Europe, conceived a social democracy project adapted to the idiosyncrasy of the Portuguese people and to its historical tradition, so marked by the personalist experience.»)
  8. ^ Official PDP/SDP Sá Carneiro's death 25th Anniversary documentary II on YouTube, 1:35 – 1:35
  9. ^ Official PDP/SDP Sá Carneiro's death 25th Anniversary documentary II on YouTube, 1:56 – 2:02
  10. ^ Official PDP/SDP Sá Carneiro's death 25th Anniversary documentary II on YouTube, 1:36 – 1:44
  11. ^ Popularist constants John Dewey and Francisco Sá Carneiro, 1:08 – 1:39 on YouTube
  12. ^ "Reformist Centre Popular Pan-National photos".  (English)
  13. ^ "O Populismo Laranja (The Orange Populism)".  (Portuguese), o António Maria blog, third paragraph: «Em primeiro lugar, porque a matriz ideológica e social do PPD-PSD é geneticamente populista, na modulação muito própria que lhe foi dada desde o início por Francisco Sá Carneiro» ("In the first place, because the ideological and social matrix of the PDP-SDP is genetically populist, in the very specific modulation that was given to it since the beginning by Francisco Sá Carneiro")
  14. ^ "Textos de Francisco Sá Carneiro (Texts of Francisco Sá Carneiro), 31 da Armada blog".  (Portuguese), eleventh comment: «Sá Carneiro, seria hoje um populista como Santana Lopes ou pior ainda... !! (João Jardim... !)» («Sá Carneiro, would be today a populist like Santana Lopes or even worse...!! (João Jardim...!)»)

External links

  • Part I on YouTube and II on YouTube of a version with English subtitles of the official Social Democratic Party documentary made on 25th anniversary of Sá Carneiro's death (4 December 2005)
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