Portugal royal says monarchy still tops republic

LISBON, July 9 (Reuters Life!) - Dom Duarte, the Duke of Braganza and a relic of the Portuguese aristocracy, may not enjoy the riches or influence of the former kings of Portugal, but he’d be happy to take the throne if it was on offer.

Although Portugal has been a republic since 1910, Duarte told Reuters he’d like to see a referendum on whether the constitution can be changed to bring back the monarchy and allow him to regain the family throne.

“If it ever became possible it would not be a choice but my obligation to do it,” the 62-year old former air force pilot said as he glanced around at the portraits of his ancestors which cover the walls of his small office in Lisbon.

“Kings are always better heads of state than presidents,” he told Reuters in an interview. “We rule for life and don’t represent particular interest groups.”

Portugal’s constitution forbids changes to its republican way of government and according to the latest available poll, only 15.6 percent of Portuguese would be willing to change their form of government to a monarchy anyway.

The poll, published in daily Correio da Manha in 2004, said 68.6 percent of Portuguese prefer a republican government.

However, Duarte remains adamant that he could do a better job than a president, if only he was given the chance.

“Our influence as kings is evident. People normally don’t know who the president of Italy is but everyone knows the name of the princes of Monaco and Lichtenstein, two of Europe’s smallest nations,” he said.

Duarte, who lives in a mansion surrounded by the castles of former Portuguese kings in the hills of Sintra near Lisbon, is the head of the Royal House of Braganza, which ruled Portugal from 1640 to 1910.

He is the closest male relative to Dom Manuel II, the last king of Portugal, but his family lineage can be traced back to the illegitimate son of King Dom Joao I - a direct descendant of the first king of Portugal - and to a king of France.

His family was forced to flee the country after the Republican Revolution in 1910 and later lost most of their land and belongings under Antonio Salazar’s dictatorship years.

In 1950 the Braganzas were finally allowed to return to Portuguese soil without the right to lay claim to any of their lost lands or properties.

Today, Duarte is officially recognized by the government as the representative of the Portuguese monarchy, but has little political influence in the small Iberian country.

Abroad, Duarte is often given the royal treatment and is admired for a campaign that helped pave the way for the independence of East Timor, a former Portuguese colony that was occupied by Indonesia in 1975.

He says he leads a comfortable life, but must watch his spending. A far cry from the lavish days of the monarchy.

“I travel economy when I fly , but I take first class on the train because I like to travel peacefully and do some work.”

He also said the republican style of government holds Portugal back from its potential as other EU countries, many with royal heads of state, surge ahead.

“Today we are part of a moving train that travels forward while we slip towards the last carriages,” Duarte said.

The one small monarchist political party in Portugal does not support Duarte, nor does he support the party. But his desire to become head of state isn’t likely to outstrip his fundamental antipathy towards republicanism.

He said that former U.S. President Ronald Reagan suggested some years ago that he run for president, but he declined.

“I don’t think people would take me seriously If I ran for president because I have always been a critic of this type of political regime.”