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Macau

Mario Soares, Portuguese statesman who negotiated handover of Macau to China, dies aged 92

A co-founder of the moderate Socialist Party, Soares was also credited with helping counter the Communist Party’s attempt to win more power after the almost bloodless revolution

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 08 January, 2017, 10:38pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 08 January, 2017, 11:15pm

Mario Soares, the prime minister who helped consolidate Portugal’s transition to democracy and became the first freely elected premier after a revolution ended almost five decades of fascist dictatorship, has died. He was 92.

Soares was president of Portugal during the negotiations with Beijing in the late 1980s which secured the return of Macau to Chinese sovereignty in 1999 – eight years before the original 2007 date Lisbon had in mind.

The loss of Soares is the loss of someone who is irreplaceable in our recent history – we owe him a lot
Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa

In 1991, as president, he also appointed the last governor of Macau, his friend General Vasco Rocha Vierra, and made a private visit to the city prior to the handover in December 1999.

“The loss of Soares is the loss of someone who is irreplaceable in our recent history – we owe him a lot,” said Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa from New Delhi, during his state visit.

The government declared three days of mourning starting on Monday, with a state funeral planned, Costa told television station SIC Noticias.

Soares, who was arrested a dozen times in his fight against Antonio de Oliveira Salazar’s dictatorship, returned from exile in Paris after the 1974 Carnation Revolution. That year, he was appointed foreign minister in a provisional government and was in charge of negotiating the independence of Portugal’s overseas colonies.

Much later in the 1980s, Soares became embroiled in a scandal over the financing of the Socialist Party of Portugal, in which there were allegations a former Grand Master Masonic leader and former minister under Soares tried to take a suitcase of money from Macau to Portugal.

A co-founder of the moderate Socialist Party, Soares was also credited with helping counter the Communist Party’s attempt to win more power after the almost bloodless revolution.

“I certainly don’t want to be a Kerensky,” Soares said in a discussion with Henry Kissinger, then US secretary of state, referring to the moderate Russian socialist Alexander Kerensky, who had to flee after the Bolsheviks seized power in 1917.

Mario Soares challenged all the big proposals and power situations of his time
Rui Ramos, Portuguese historian

“Neither did Kerensky,” replied Kissinger, who was concerned the communists would take power, according to an account of the conversation published in 1997 in the Journal of Democracy.

In 1976, Soares’s Socialist Party won the country’s first free elections after the revolution and he became prime minister. In 1983, he was elected premier again and helped negotiate Portugal’s entry into the European Economic Community, a predecessor of the EU. He served as president from 1986 to 1996.

“Mario Soares challenged all the big proposals and power situations of his time,” said Rui Ramos, a Portuguese historian.

Soares remained an active voice in Portuguese politics after leaving office, often critical of austerity measures imposed by the International Monetary Fund and EU after Portugal sought a bailout in 2011.

“The troika doesn’t give us anything. It grants loans with very high interest rates,” wrote Soares, who also requested aid from the IMF after becoming prime minister in 1983, in an article published on his foundation’s website.

Born on December 7, 1924, in Lisbon, the son of Joao Soares and Elisa Nobre Baptista. His father, the founder of a school and a former minister, endured periods of imprisonment and exile under the Salazar dictatorship, according to a profile in The New York Times in 1983.