Following King Juan Carlos of Spain’s announcement of his intention to abdicate in favor of his son, Crown Prince Felipe, Spain finds before her a task she has failed to accomplish for over 200 years: the peaceful preservation of her constitution during the succession of a head of state.
Juan Carlos has so fulfilled his role as the nation’s executive that the Spanish constitution he helped construct in 1978 does not address the succession process in detail, leaving the country’s parliament to draw up the formalities of the crown prince’s ascension in response to the king’s announcement. Faced with anti-monarchial protests, Spaniards and their representatives must consider the relationship between their king and constitution, and their crown and country.
In many ways, Juan Carlos created today’s Spanish State, and his executive role is basically non-political, animating and enforcing the constitution itself without condescending to the partisanship of the parliamentary government. Juan Carlos’s rule continues the house of Bourbon founded in 1700, and the office of king is the symbol and fullness of Spanish national unity and permanence. His monarchy has transcended the divisions left by the rule of Francisco Franco. Juan Carlos also embraced his role as the country’s commander-in-chief and put down an attempted military coup, ushering in the parliamentary system that governs Spain today.
Thus, while the Spanish parliament hurries to enact legislation facilitating a tranquil transition and Felipe’s assumption of the monarchy, the demonstrators joining with leftist parties calling for a referendum on the monarchy should ask themselves whether it is truly broken. Their calls for a republic reveal the question at hand to be one of the nature of sovereignty rather than a response to despotism. While Juan Carlos’s reign has not been without scandal, he is also not accused of failing to fulfill his constitutional duties enumerated in article 62 of the Spanish constitution.
Juan Carlos and the monarchy are symbols of Spanish national and cultural continuity. He has been, and his son will be—having prepared for these duties his whole life—the vessel of the constitutional rule of law in Spain. To eliminate the Spanish monarchy is to eliminate the Spanish constitution and to reject 314 years of Spanish history.
Considering the question of sovereignty, Juan Carlos has done nothing to violate the laws of justice that bind the people to the monarchy. Considering the question of prudence, an attempt to reform the nation into a populist republic less than a hundred years after a brutal civil war and fascist dictatorship, rejecting the opportunity for constitutional continuity, seems deeply foolish.
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