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Francisco Sá Carneiro
Sa Carneiro.jpg
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 Lurdes Pintasilgo
Succeeded by Francisco Pinto Balsemão
President of the Social Democratic Party
In office
2 July 1978 – 4 December 1980
Secretary-General Amândio de Azevedo
António Capucho
Preceded by José Menéres Pimentel
Succeeded by Francisco Pinto Balsemão
In office
31 October 1976 – 10 November 1977
Secretary-General Joaquim Magalhães Mota
Preceded by Office created
Succeeded by António Sousa Franco
Secretary-General of the Social Democratic Party
In office
28 September 1975 – 31 October 1976
Preceded by Emídio Guerreiro
Succeeded by Joaquim Magalhães Mota
In office
24 November 1974 – 25 May 1975
Preceded by Office created
Succeeded by Emídio Guerreiro
Assistant Minister to the Prime 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 Office created
Succeeded by Ernesto Melo Antunes
Joaquim Magalhães Mota
Vítor Alves
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 Snu Abecassis
Children 5
Alma mater University of Lisbon

Francisco Manuel Lumbrales de Sá Carneiro, GCTE, GCC, GCL (Portuguese: [fɾɐ̃ˈsiʃku sa kɐɾˈnɐjɾu]; 19 July 1934 – 4 December 1980) was a Portuguese politician, Prime Minister of Portugal for most of 1980, and founder of the Social Democratic Party. He only held office of Prime Minister for eleven months, dying in a plane crash with his partner, "Snu" Abecassis (born Ebba Merethe Seidenfaden), on 4 December 1980. A parliamentary inquiry said in 2004 that there was evidence of a bomb in the aircraft, after a 1995 inquiry had concluded there was evidence of sabotage.


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


A lawyer by training, Sá Carneiro became a member of the National Assembly in 1969 and, in turn, one of the leaders of the "Liberal Wing" (Ala Liberal) which attempted to work for the gradual transformation of Marcelo Caetano's dictatorship into a Western European liberal 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, becoming the country's main centre-right force. 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 who might 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.


Sá Carneiro
Sá Carneiro, painting by Carlos Botelho (Bottelho)

He was married to Isabel Maria Ferreira Nunes de Matos (b. Porto, Miragaia, 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:
    • Francisco de Sá Carneiro e Nogueira (b. Porto, Santo Ildefonso, 1986)
    • Lourenço de Sá Carneiro e Nogueira (b. Porto, Santo Ildefonso, 1988)
  • José Nunes de Matos de Sá Carneiro (b. Porto, Cedofeita, 1963), married in Mealhada, Luso, 1991 Isabel Maria Guedes de Macedo Girão (b. Porto, Ramalde, 1965), and had an only daughter:
    • Inês de Macedo Girão de Sá Carneiro (b. Porto, Santo Ildefonso, 1992)
  • Pedro Nunes de Matos de Sá Carneiro (b. Porto, 1964), married to Maria Benedita de Matos Chaves Pinheiro Torres, of the Barons of a Torre de Pero Palha, b. 1967, and had an only daughter:
    • Maria Teresa Pinheiro Torres de Sá Carneiro (b. Porto, 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 Acção Católica (the Portuguese Catholic Action), being his first activity in civic life to write a letter to Marcelo Caetano requesting the return of the António Ferreira Gomes, the exiled pro-democracy bishop of Oporto. He probably had links with the Catholic syndicalist organizations and Christian socialism in general. He was very influenced by Catholic personalism 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 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, he increased social spending during his term, supported land reform and its redistribution in Alentejo 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". Due to all these specificities, he called his party's ideology "Portuguese Social Democracy".

He was recognized as populist by supporters and opponents, as well as neutral analysts.


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).


  • PRT Order of Christ - Grand Cross BAR.svg Grand-Cross of the Order of Christ, Portugal (29 May 1981)
  • PRT Military Order of the Tower and of the Sword - Grand Cross BAR.svg Grand-Cross of the Order of the Tower and of the Sword, of Valour, Loyalty and Merit, Portugal (7 March 1986)
  • PRT Order of Liberty - Grand Cross BAR.svg Grand Cross of the Order of Liberty, Portugal (29 November 1990)

See also

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