Talk of a republic

20 12 2020

We thought readers might be interested in a recent Financial Times story on rising republicanism in Spain.

The story – behind a paywall – begins:

A day after Juan Carlos I announced his abdication as King of Spain in June 2014, Alberto Garzón, now a minister in the country’s government, published a book whose title was its goal: The Third Republic. A follow-up was called Why I am a Communist.

Today, the consumer affairs minister for Spain says that attempts by the former monarch to settle affairs with the tax authorities are proof of corruption. He argues that a republic is essential for democracy and transparency, and warns that former military officers are plotting against the elected government.

“During Juan Carlos’s reign a series of acts of corruption took place, which today are proven and recognised as such,” Mr Garzón said. “We have to be very clear, this happened because the institutions did not work as a firewall, because the monarchy in our country is not held accountable.”

Mr Garzón is perhaps the most vocal republican to have occupied a post in Spain’s government since the civil war over 80 years ago. One of the first communist ministers since that era — the other is also in government — he calls King Felipe VI, Juan Carlos’s son, “Citizen Borbón”, a reference to the family name of Spain’s reigning House of Bourbon.

For Thais and Thailand watchers, there are five related things to notice here: (1) the call for a republic does not give rise to dozens of lese majeste charges; (2) a government minister is making the call; (3) that minister is a Communist – in other words, communism is not dead – with Garzón being a member of the Communist Party of Spain and United Left (Izquierda Unida, IU) since 2003; (4) in Spain, communists participate in electoral politics marking their communism out from, say Chinese communism, which is statist and repressive; and (5) Garzón  is in a minority, but his voice is still heard.

That said, aged, diehard, Falangists and other far rightists and conservatives did earlier call for “Garzón’s dismissal for his ‘disloyalty’ to the monarchy.”

But Juan Carlos’s flight to exile in Abu Dhabi and his efforts to settle a tax bill on alleged “kickbacks over a €7bn high-speed train project in Saudi Arabia awarded to a Spanish consortium in 2011” and an investigation of his 2012 “gift” of €65 million to a lover (consort?) from “funds that originated in a present of $100m from the late king Abdullah of Saudi Arabia in 2008” seem to have silenced all but the maddest of monarchists.

Imagine the scandals and the amounts of filched taxpayer funds that would be identified if Thailand’s monarchy and its hidden secrets and the state’s abetting of them were ever to be investigated.

It is reported that “Javier Sánchez-Junco, Juan Carlos’s lawyer, revealed last week that the ex-king had paid €678,393.72 to clear his tax debt. The public prosecutor’s office has yet to close the file, however, warning that it was evaluating the ‘spontaneity, veracity and completeness’ of the king’s tax declaration ‘in the context of a broader investigation’.”

Can Thais imagine the state investigating Vajiralongkorn’s tax affairs? Does he have tax affairs? We recall that for decades, the taxpayer funds poured into the monarchy that semi-secretly appeared in budget papers were never subject to scrutiny in parliament.

Garzón  explains why republicanism matters: “For me, republicanism means modernisation … a democratic, accountable country where all of us, all of Spain’s nationalities, fit in.”

The far right is not a spent force in Spain:

the monarchy has become a potent symbol to elements of the Spanish right, outraged at ministers such as Mr Garzón and at the minority coalition’s dependence on votes from separatist Basque and Catalan parties. Dozens of retired military officers have written to Felipe VI attacking the “social-communist government”. Some also joined a WhatsApp group that referred to coups and to “shooting 26m bastards”.

Thailand’s far right and mad monarchists make similar claims but from a stronger political and institutional position. The rightist military has long demonstrated that it is prepared to “shoot … bastards,” meaning those it sees as democratic, republican, anti-monarchist or different in other ways.

Garzón makes a point resonant of Thailand:  “We [should not] underestimate the danger represented by the penetration of these reactionary elements of institutions as important as the armed forces…”. In Thailand, a much longer list of institutions needs to be added. This is what makes reform so difficult in Thailand.


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