But while the aversion to the former king’s alleged wrongdoing has filled the sails of the republican regime, proponents of leaving the monarchy will need more than a sustained fair political wind. The institution enjoys tremendous constitutional protection – ingrained by the country’s elite in the years after Juan Carlos was appointed by former dictator Francisco Franco – which is in fact impregnable. And it has powerful friends in the Spanish business and media world.
The royal family hopes that the ex-king’s self-imposed exile will allow his son Felipe VI – to whom Juan Carlos abdicated the throne in 2014 – to distance himself from the scandals and weather the storm (although friends of the former king who spoke to El Mundo hope he will be back in the country next month).
The current king may find it difficult to separate from his father’s actions as details emerge suggesting the successor benefited of questionable cash, and as Swiss and Spanish prosecutors investigate the former monarch’s alleged financial wrongdoings.
Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez tried to protect the current king from criticism on Tuesday by insisting that “institutions are not judged, people are.” He added that his coalition government’s commitment to the monarchy remained steadfast and advocated “stability and robust institutions” amid the COVID-19 crisis and economic downturn.
But members of his own coalition government undermined that position by questioning the state’s decision to have Juan Carlos leave Spanish land, as well as the continuity of the crown itself.
Shortly after the announcement, Deputy Prime Minister Pablo Iglesias – leader of the left-wing Podemos party – said that by “fleeing abroad” the ex-king had behaved in an “indecent” manner of a head of state and had left the monarchy “in a very compromised position”.
During a radio interview on Cadena SER on Tuesday, Secretary of Equality Irene Montero blasted the royal household to green the exit and link the former monarch to his successor by stating that it was “impossible to separate the decisions of the emeritus king from both his position as king or from his family”.
Hours later, the parliamentary group of Iglesias and Montero continued through one statement openly advocates a “multiple republic where social, civil and political rights are guaranteed for all people and where, in reality, the same is the same for all”.
The call received widespread social media response and reflected the results of one survey last April, which showed that a majority of Spaniards – 62.3 percent – believe there should be a referendum on the monarchy. However, participants were equally divided over central demand, with 47.5 percent behind the crown and 47 percent against.
The 1978 Spanish Constitution makes an attack on the monarchy virtually impossible.
To hold a referendum on the monarchy, two-thirds of the members of the Spanish Congress and the Senate should vote in favor of the proposal, and parliament would be dissolved immediately afterwards. Two-thirds of the successor to Congress and the Senate should ratify the same motion, and only then would it come to the Spanish public – who should vote in its favor to make it successful.
“The monarchy is, in fact, armor-clad,” said Alberto Lardíes, author of “The Borbon Democracy.”
“There is hardly any way to get rid of it.” Lardíes explained that the system’s resilience is a design, built to protect the royal family – and those who benefit directly from their rule.
“After the appointment of the then Prince Juan Carlos as his successor in 1969, Franco boasted that the continuity of his regime was”atado, y bien atado ‘ [locked in]”Lardíes said. He added that after the dictator’s death in 1975, the new king allowed the country to pursue a democratic path,” but without really dismantling the establishment. Many of the same families who had political and economic power under the dictatorship retained their status in the new system.
“The political elites who maintained their position after taking power have repaid Juan Carlos by creating a comprehensive framework that allows him and his heirs to remain in power forever,” said Lardíes.
In 1995 former prime minister was Adolfo Suárez admitted so much in an interview with journalist Victoria Prego. But when the cameras weren’t rolling, the politician – who oversaw the 1978 Spanish constitutional referendum – said that his government had chosen to anchor the king’s position as head of state after it became clear that if there were standalone discussions about the monarchy, the republican option would have won. Prego not reported to Suárez’s comments, which were only revealed in 2016.
Friends in high places
Lardíes said that once Juan Carlos consolidated his power, he strengthened his support base by using his position to “mediate” on behalf of Spanish companies abroad, especially in the Middle East, where the monarch has a close relationship with his regional counterparts.
That intervention has been excused for years because the king acted on behalf of the Spanish economy, but it is clear that some companies – run by his personal friends – have benefited more than others, and there are indications that he received unauthorized kickbacks for that work. “
According to Lardíes, the economic elites who grew wealthier during the reign of Juan Carlos are those who have shielded him in recent decades and prevented national media from reporting questionable behavior subsequently denounced by the foreign press. He added that those who want to distance the current king from his predecessor are trying to make the king’s exit look like yet another royal scandal.
That story will be difficult to continue as prosecutors approach the ex-king. If a trial is held, further harmful details may emerge. But it is also possible that Spanish prosecutors are not collecting enough evidence to move forward – something that could undermine the idea of an independent judiciary in Spain.
“Their mission, their arguments, is a little absurd: how the hell do you detach a 45-year-old monarchy from a man who was king for 39 of those years?” Lardies asked rhetorically. “The defenders of the crown will say they are doing it to preserve national stability, but it is clear that what they want to protect is their own … They have no interest in seeing the system disappear, but this is too great to be under the carpet. “
“Regardless of whether he did things or not, the fact that he was picked up and left … This is a new low,” he added. “I’m not sure how they expect the audience to ignore it.”
Cristina Gallardo has reported.