Sixty-two percent of Spaniards want a referendum on the future of the monarchy but there’s very strong odds they won’t get one. Such is the state of Spanish democracy today following the unexpected announcement by King Juan Carlos on June 2 that he was throwing in the towel.
Draft legislation to come before parliament Wednesday will formalize the abdication of King Juan Carlos and pave the way for Spain’s Crown Prince Felipe to become the monarch. It is set to be rubber stamped by both major parties, despite calls from the streets that the people should decide.
The socialist party is so keen on turning its back on its Republican roots that it is reportedly forcing its Members of Parliament to be called to the stand and say their vote out loud.
If they vote against the draft bill on Spain’s first royal democratic succession, approved in an emergency cabinet meeting last Tuesday, the party will fine them between €200 and €600.
Three socialist MPs — Odón Elorza, Federico Buyolo and Guillem Cargía Gasulla — have already voiced their disapproval of the stance adopted by leader Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba, who announced he will stand down as party secretary after his party’s lacklustre (23%) showing at the European elections last month.
Left-wing Izquierda Unida that led mass demonstrations in Madrid and across the country over the weekend – the second wave of demonstrations against the monarchy since the King announced his abdication – has said it won’t support the bill. The ruling Catalan nationalist coalition Convergence and Union (CiU) and the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV) say they will abstain.
Both the communists, who lead Izquierda Unida, and the socialists backed King Juan Carlos for his role in the transition to democracy and in particular his decisive intervention in favour of a nascent Spanish democracy when it was threatened by a coup in 1981 that wanted to hand him absolute power. But of late the shine has come off the monarch, who was personally appointed by dictator Franco before he died in 1975.
Juan Carlos’ daughter, Princess Cristina and her husband are under investigation in a corruption case that claims he embezzled €6 million in public funds through his charity. His anointed successor Prince Felipe, due to be crowned June 19, is apparently clean as a whistle and respected, like Juan Carlos once was, for his common touch. He’s married to a ‘commoner’ and has taken care to be photographed taking his daughters to school or to the local cinema.
Adding to his woes, Juan Carlos, was revealed to have gone on an elephant-hunting trip to Botswana—a junket paid for by a Saudi lobbyist—with a woman (a aristocrat and German) who was not his wife, Queen Sofia. That didn’t go down well with the Church or the six million unemployed, let along animal lovers.
Most seriously, documents declassified in 2012 suggested he had ‘sympathy’ with the 1981 coup plotters and their aims, which were the ‘re-establishment of discipline, order, security and calm”.
But calls for a vote on the monarchy run rather deeper than the behaviour of the Spanish royals, or the very fact of a monarch – a direct descendant of the ancient regime Bourbons who ruled France before and after the 1789 revolution – as a head of state in the twenty-first century. The entire Spanish establishment is under fire, not only for sleaze, but for its brutal austerity policies, attacks on labour rights and welfare and sell out to the interests of big banks, Spanish and foreign, and the Germany-dominated EU elite, since the 2008 financial meltdown.
The popular anger with the regime gave rise the indignados movement that occupied plazas in the capital across the country in May 2011, and last month’s surprise 8% support for the new radical Podemos (We Can) party, coupled with a significant increase in the vote for Izquierda Unida.
Adding to the sense of a political system out of touch with its people is the opposition both main parties to an independence vote in Catalonia.
Some republicans and radicals argue that the monarchy – as the guiding force behind a much trumpeted Model Transition from Dictatorship – has actually held Spain back compared to other European countries, by maintaining in tact the Franco era power structures comprising the banks, large construction firms, the Church and the right-wing media. This has led, they argue, to lower social spending, a high degree of corruption and the domination of conservative ideas.
The calls for a Republic, then, are part of a wider demand for a freer, more democratic, more egalitarian society and a more advanced, less centralising and controlling state. In short, a Spain at the service of people, not corporate interests.
Although polls also show the majority wouldn’t back a republic if asked, Spain’s ruling class doesn’t want to take any chances. Under the Republic of the 1930s, the working class got ideas above its station, and Generalissimo Franco’s black shirts were deployed, assisted by Herr Hitler and Mussolini, while the English and French ‘democracies’ stood by and watched the carnage.
Conservative PM Mariano Rajoy and his cheerleaders in the conservative press are enjoying the whole affair, rich with opportunities to pit the socialists against their increasingly powerful left-wing rivals. Indeed, this issue risks being one more nail in the coffin of the socialists which – having pursued neo-liberal austerity policies that hit their core supporters hardest – were defeated roundly at the hands of the Popular Party in general elections in November 2011 and – having failing to draw the political lessons – have seen their fortunes go from bad to worse since.
But it should be noted that between them the two parties that have ruled the roost over the past 35 years since Spanish democracy was restored fell short of 50% of the vote in the European elections. So as things stand today they cannot pretend to the represent the majority. Denying the people the chance to decide whether they want a monarch could yet back fire on both of them.