Let us begin with a fact that is often misinterpreted or even forgotten: in April 1931 the Spanish monarchy fell because it found itself in a very uncomfortable political situation which, nevertheless, was not at all institutionally untenable. There was no referendum but merely local elections that were given a plebiscite-like dimension. The monarchy fell because it was allowed to; that is the only reason. In other words, April 14 didn’t happen amid sabre-rattling. Instead, people were fairly enthusiastic, across the board. It would be a while yet before the Spanish military engaged in truly seditious activities beyond mere gestures. General Franco himself had no issues with the Republic almost right up until the coup d’état on 18 July 1936. It is worth bringing this up every now and then so that we understand how these things actually work. In most cases, it is about waiting for the right time and then taking decisive action, bearing in mind the consequences and shunning all cowardly, half-hearted fancy footwork.
Having said that —and I believe it is important to provide some context to the current situation—, we should consider whether the flurry of news about Joan Carlos [Spain’s King Emeritus] might put his son, King Felipe, in a spot as tight as his great-grandfather found himself in ninety years ago. I believe the king of Spain is already feeling uncomfortable, actually, and this also extends to Pedro Sánchez’s coalition government [with Podemos, a largely republican leftist party]. Nevertheless, as was the case in the spring of 1931, a politically uncomfortable situation is far from an institutionally untenable state of affairs. So far Spain’s four independent powers (the executive branch, the legislature, the judiciary and the Guardia Civil) do not seem keen to turn an unpleasant situation into something else. Not even Podemos, a party that has demonstrated a great ability for looking the other way without being noticed. All in all, it just means that the monarchy will be embarrassed —even mortified, if certain tapes recorded years ago by former police superintendent Villarejo are leaked (1)— but it will stay put. Unless …
Indeed, there is one possible crack in the armour: if the PP’s far right and Vox (even further to the right) turn the defence of the monarchy into their political platform, the PSOE and Podemos might inevitably respond in kind, as a knee-jerk reaction, by pushing their republican rhetoric into actual policy. I am convinced that PM Pedro Sánchez is already aware of this genuine possibility and that is why he is at pains to stand up for the monarchy, albeit without much enthusiasm. However, facing him are two of the most laughable characters that Spanish politics has ever seen: Pablo Casado and Cayetana Álvarez de Toledo. Despite their vociferous vehemence, the duo is a joke. Depending on how things pan out, they might join Vox to form a sort of shoddy royalist front which —even in the short term— might allow for a plebiscite-like general election. In such a scenario, nobody —neither the PSOE nor Podemos— would be able to pretend it is business as usual. As we know, in politics polarisation is a loose cannon. It is easy to picture the situation and we could summarise it in a question that so far nobody is asking in Spain: “Hey, will you vote for the king or the republic in the next local elections?”. It is as simple as that. Whether the question will be asked some day or not will largely depend on that unpleasant cocktail of bitterness and folly which Casado and Álvarez de Toledo tend to pour over their sectarian rhetoric in parliament.
At any rate, we mustn’t forget that, so far, we have only mentioned the executive branch and the legislature, without taking into consideration the other two independent powers: the judiciary and the Guardia Civil. In their case, things are obviously different. Unless … Well, as I see it there is also a chance here and it’s not a remote one. Once court rulings based on fabricated reports hit the government or the powers-that-be, the whole game changes completely. We have already seen how the Pérez de los Cobos case panned out: he was sacked at the drop of a hat (2). This was a warning to high-ranking mandarins, most of whom are “friends and live in Madrid” as they used to say on the old 3-2-1 game show.
Will they allow the monarchy to fall? Paradoxically, it will all depend on whether its most ardent supporters behave stupidly or very stupidly. We shall see.
(1) Upon retiring from the Spanish police force, superintendent José Manuel Villarejo started a private security outfit which used police intelligence and illegal means to dig up dirt and blackmail prominent figures in business, finance, politics and high society, eventually leading to his conviction.
(2) Pérez de los Cobos is a high-ranking Guardia Civil officer who was recently dismissed when he sent an investigative judge in Madrid an embellished report which sought to incriminate a PSOE appointee in an alleged case of government negligence.