Political parties divided over former king’s decision to leave Spain

The rift is also apparent within the coalition government of the Socialist Party and the leftist Unidas Podemos, which accuses the emeritus king of fleeing the justice system

King Felipe VI of Spain stands with his father Juan Carlos I (r) and one of his daughters Princess Leonor in 2018.
King Felipe VI of Spain stands with his father Juan Carlos I (r) and one of his daughters Princess Leonor in 2018.JAIME REINA (AFP)

The decision by Spain’s emeritus king Juan Carlos I to leave Spain has sparked a divided response from the country’s main political parties. The former monarch announced the move on Monday following a scandal over bank accounts he allegedly held in Switzerland, and other financial irregularities.

At his weekly news conference following the Tuesday Cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez showed support for the former king’s decision, and said that “what is being judged is not the institutions, it’s the people,” alluding to renewed calls from the political left for a republic in Spain.

The leader of the Socialist Party (PSOE) said he does not know where Juan Carlos is at the moment. Asked whether the latter will be stripped of his honorary title of king emeritus, Sánchez responded: “Some things I do know, other things I don’t know.”

The PSOE, which leads a minority government in coalition with the leftist Unidas Podemos, showed support for “the work and commitment” of King Felipe, who ascended to the throne in 2014 after Juan Carlos’ abdication.

But the rift on this issue between the coalition partners was apparent on Tuesday when Equality Minister Irene Montero, of Unidas Podemos, said that her party was unaware of whether there had been any negotiation between the government and the royal household regarding Juan Carlos’ departure from Spain. In an interview on SER radio station, Montero said that this decision “was not taken by the coalition government,” adding that “it might be that the PSOE took it from La Moncloa.”

Asked about his own role in any talks between the executive and the royal household, Sánchez said at the news conference that such matters between the head of state and the head of government “are discreet, confidential, and they will remain in that sphere. We respect the decision taken by the royal household because it shows it is distancing itself from conduct that could potentially be qualified as irregular.”

Juan Carlos de Borbón’s flight overseas is an undignified act of a former head of state and leaves the monarchy in a very compromising position
Unidas Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias

The conservative Popular Party (PP) issued a press release, shared by PP chief Pablo Casado on Twitter, praising the former king’s “determining and decisive role” in Spain’s transition to democracy following the death of dictator Francisco Franco in 1975. The statement underscored “his legacy at the helm of an institution that has been fundamental to enable today’s Spaniards to enjoy one of the most developed democratic systems in the world.” The PP reaffirmed its support for King Felipe and the role of the Crown as “a symbol of unity and historical continuity for the Spanish nation.”

The spokesperson of the center-right Ciudadanos (Citizens), Edmundo Bal, also expressed respect for the former king’s decision, saying it allowed “the current head of state to carry out his functions in the best circumstances.”

Criticism from the left

The anti-austerity Unidas Podemos, however, criticized Juan Carlos for deciding to leave Spain while he is implicated in ongoing investigations into money laundering. In a message on Twitter, Pablo Iglesias, the leader of Unidas Podemos and one of Spain’s four deputy prime ministers, wrote: “Juan Carlos de Borbón’s flight overseas is an undignified act for a former head of state and it leaves the monarchy in a very compromising position. Out of respect for Spanish citizens and for democracy, Juan Carlos I must respond to his actions in Spain and before the people.”

Some had to go into exile because they were democrats, others leave because they are corrupt
Catalan deputy premier Pere Aragonès

In recent weeks, Unidas Podemos has supported several initiatives calling for a congressional committee to investigate the former king’s alleged financial irregularities. The party said it would continue “to explore all avenues so that the shady businesses of Juan Carlos de Borbón are investigated thoroughly, the truth revealed, and it is known how deep the plot goes and who is involved, so that impunity may end.”

Catalan premier Quim Torra compared the former king’s decision to leave Spain with the exile of Alfonso XIII, who was forced to leave the country after the proclamation of the Second Republic in April 1931. The hardline separatist shared a news article on the move on Twitter, with the message: “Just like Alfonso XVII.” The deputy premier of Catalonia, Pere Aragonès, accused Juan Carlos of fleeing to escape corruption. “Some people had to go into exile because they were democrats, others leave because they are corrupt,” he wrote in a message on Twitter.

This sentiment was shared by Gabriel Rufián, the spokesperson in Spanish Congress for the Catalan Republican Left (ERC), who said: “The good news is that Spain has one less thief, the bad news is that he will not end up in Soto del Real [prison], or before a judge, but rather in a country house in the Dominican Republican,” alluding to unconfirmed reports that Juan Carlos I has moved to the Caribbean country.

English version by Melissa Kitson and Susana Urra.

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