Of course, the big news here is the sudden abdication of the King of Spain. This has come as a surprise, to put it mildly. Indeed, it appears that there is not even a clause in the 1978 Constitution allowing for what should occur if the Spanish monarch abdicates. This fact alone seems to indicate that the King’s decision had not been widely communicated (and thereby planned for) beforehand.
In truth, the succession to the Spanish throne is clear and should not cause any problems. King Juan Carlos’ eldest son, Principe Felipe, is next in line and will, no doubt, be shoehorned into his role as monarch without too much trouble. Fortunately, he is popular, appears capable (he trained as a fighter pilot) and he is clear of any of the scandals that have beset the Spanish Royal Family over the past few years.
Certainly, one of the sad facts of King Juan Carlos’ reign has been that it has ended in a rather tarnished anti-climax. This has been due to a couple of bad decisions made in the early years of the recession when the King went on a lavish holiday to Botswana and shot an elephant (notwithstanding that he was President of the World Wildlife Fund at the time). In normal times this would probably have been overlooked but it caused outrage amongst a country suddenly plunged into its worst economic crisis for decades.
However, the king’s situation was hugely exacerbated by the seemingly unending corruption scandal caused by the actions of his son in law, Inaki Urdangarin. The latter has, almost single-handedly, destroyed the reputation of the Spanish Royal Family through his involvement in a series of torrid business deals. These, sadly, seem to have had the involvement of the King’s daughter (Urdangarin’s wife).
Whilst the King’s probity has never been called into question, the Urdangarin scandal has undoubtedly harmed the king. Alongside the corruption allegations made about Prime Minister Rajoy (the Barcenas affair), the impression is that corruption and abuse of power reach to the very highest levels. Actually, (the King aside) this is probably largely true and most people in Spain find it hard to believe that any of their politicians are corruption free. Indeed, if pressed, some Spaniards would (half-jokingly) admit that corruption and abuse of power are probably obligatory for any politician, irrespective of party allegiance.
The problem is that the Spanish Royal Family cannot afford to look bad in the eyes of the Spanish people, within which lie a very large proportion of republicans or people who do not care, one way or another, whether they have a monarch or not. The monarchy was only restored in 1975 (upon the death of General Franco) and is still, in reality, a young institution and one that has yet to prove its longevity – or long term relevance.
The King’s position is somewhat tragic. His role in bringing democracy to Spain after the death of General Franco, his dedication to establishing a Constitutional Democracy and preventing a civil war in 1981 (the Tejero attempted coup) have been seminal. Indeed, few objective Spaniards could possibly argue that the King’s actions during the early days of democracy were not absolutely invaluable, edging on heroic. He deserves better than being remembered for some blunders in his old age and a despicable son in law.
However, as we all know, time passes fast, memories dim and new generations reach maturity and, with them, a forgetfulness of the King’s past actions. For many people, what the king did in the early years of Spanish democracy is irrelevant now and, for some, he is just looked upon as a blundering old man, living in a splendour that is not justified. These are harsh thoughts but if you are one of the 26%+ of the Spanish population without a job (50-60% if you are between 18 – 24) then it is understandable, to some extent.
In any event, it is no secret that the King is not a well man. He is now 76, has recently undergone a hip operation and he certainly looks tired and worn in recent images.
Nonetheless, after nearly forty years on the throne of Spain, the King is probably a good deal more astute than many Spaniards give him credit for and he may have made a very wise decision to abdicate now. As he has said, Prince Felipe is ready to take over and has been well trained for the most prestigious position in the land.
However, the King also probably realizes that Spain needs an infusion of energy and optimisim and it is unlikely that the King has not come to the conclusion that this is more likely to come from his son, an obviously more energetic man, than himself. Furthermore, the King may well have been loath to abdicate during the depths of the crisis, as this would have been akin to handing a poisoned chalice to Felipe. However, to do so now, as Spain is starting to stumble its way out of the crisis, could mean that Felipe has the chance to shine.
Of course, the abdication of the King of Spain is an important matter for the country and the coming few weeks will, no doubt, herald a torrent of anti-monarchism. This will be vocal and demonstrative but is unlikely to change anything. Most people are probably far too pre-occupied with their lives and their economic battles to do much and the monarchy is likely to continue for some time to come.
Nonetheless, the new king will have to tread exceptionally carefully – if he is not to be the last king of Spain…