How many radical democrats does it take to change the Spanish constitution?
A political party fed up with their country’s dominant politicians and bankers calls itself ‘We Can’ — Podemos. It formed just in time for the European Elections in May, then won 1,250,000 votes — five seats in the European Parliament. And support keeps growing — demanding changes in their country’s political structuring and representation.
Podemos doesn’t have a firm position on whether Spain might consider converting to a republic from a monarchy, but its voters definitely want reforms.
They’re basically chanting, “Yes, we can!”
“¡Sí se puede, sí se puede!”
At a rally in the grounds of Madrid’s Complutense University, a young woman named Rebeca is participating. She says:
“So far, I haven’t felt particularly represented by the monarchy, since I didn’t elect any of them. I would prefer to choose the state I want.”
The thing is: the monarchy is enshrined in the constitution. To change that would need a two-thirds majority in the Congress and Senate. Even with the abdication of King Juan Carlos enlivening the head of state debate, Spain is far from fulfilling the conditions for dissolving parliament and redrafting the national charter.
Last week, Congress overwhelmingly supported Juan Carlos handing over to his son Felipe the non-executive role of head of state, almost exclusively ceremonial.
The founder of Podemos, Pablo Iglesias, insists there are more important matters.
He says: “This isn’t a debate on the form of the state. It’s about whether the Spaniards are mature enough and have the right to decide or have to go on being talked down to by party elites more concerned with booking tables in restaurants than consulting the people.”
Spain’s conservative politicians and the majority of socialists simply feel that the institution of the monarchy has served the Spanish people well.
At a swearing-in ceremony for Spaniards elected to the European Parliament, MEP Miguel Arias Cañete, a former minister with the European People’s Party, says: “There was a broad consensus in making the 1978 Constitution, which has allowed us to enjoy the best period of freedom, peace and prosperity in the history of Spain. That consensus guaranteed us unprecedented political stability — in a country accustomed to hugely unstable transitions of political power from one regime to another. “
MEP and former Socialist minister Ramón Jáuregui says: “A country needs consensus. The form of state can’t change just because 50 percent of the people want to change it. To change the form of the State requires a socially structured overwhelming majority in the country in favour of a different idea. You don’t have that in Spain.”
In the Madrid neighbourhood of Vallecas we see an awful lot of red, yellow and purple flags from the 1931-1939 Second Republic. A local club has organised a “Republican paella”. Former Socialist MP José Antonio Pérez Tapias has come along. People like him believe a Spanish republic is possible again.
Pérez Tapias says: “The Republican identity in the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party is still very strong. In the debate after the king’s abdication, I believe that we need to assert this Republican identity with determination. It opens the way for a referendum on whether to have a monarchy or a republic. It’s true that this has to follow a constitutional process, and therefore a full debate, both a public consultation on the question and in parliament.”
The Second Spanish Republic brought social reforms following elections in which anti-monarchist candidates won the majority of votes. The king went into exile. Then, nationalist forces under General Franco defeated republican forces in a civil war, which led to four decades of dictatorship.
Franco kept that king in exile. But eventually took his son under his wing.
Historian Juan Pablo Fusi considers the pros and cons of the Second Republic.
Fusi says: “Of the great reforms of the Republic, the very good ones, I think, were granting autonomy for Catalonia, land reform and military reform. The biggest mistake, perhaps, paradoxically as we see it today, was secular policy, which obviously went against all of Catholic Spain, who were the majority. I think the biggest problem for the democrats in 1931 was the monarchy. And yet the solution for that same democracy in 1975-78 was the monarchy.”
According to surveys published in Spanish media, more than 60 percent of the population believe that sooner or later a referendum should be held on the modern head of state question. On the other hand, more than 70 percent come out saying they believe that Felipe VI will be a good king.
That is a far cry from the traditional chant “¡España, mañana, será republicana!”, that ushered a king out the last time — It means, “Spain, tomorrow, will be republican.” But it’s clear that a continuation of a constitutional parliamentary monarchy hasn’t been ruled out yet.
Groups linked to the 15-M Movement are campaigning informally to have an official referendum held — that’s the movement that started in 2011 demanding radical changes in Spanish politics. The economy had gone into meltdown but it was before the worst corruption and embarrassments had tarred the royal family.
Our correspondent Marcela Martinez concludes: “The abdication of Juan Carlos has improved the monarchy’s prospects. Some surveys give it a twenty-point lead over the idea of a republic: 55 percent to 35 percent. But the debate, as we’ve seen, seems to lie elsewhere: it’s about the power of the ballot box to decide what sort of a state people want.”