POLITICAL ROUND UP BY MURIEL PILKINGTON – 18th August 2008

Headaches

One of the biggest headaches for Prince Juan Carlos in the last weeks of Franco’s life was getting enough of his allies in place to ensure a swift transition to the reforming monarchy he intended to introduce. The dictator didn’t make it any easier for him by taking such a long time to die. From mid-October onwards, Franco had a series of heart attacks which he managed to recover from – no doubt believing it was God’s will for him to stay alive. But the fact that he kept on recovering, just when it looked as if the end was imminent, made it very difficulty for anyone – the Prince and the reformists who supported him, the Francoists bent on maintaining the regime, and the politicians in exile – to actually do anything to guarantee stability after Franco’s death. The students had been rioting for months, the clandestine trade unionists were whipping up the workers and a lot of people feared that the dictator’s demise would plunge the country into another civil war. The military were divided, with the younger officers who had not lived through the Civil War wanting democratic reforms, while the older officers who fought alongside Franco wanted things kept as they were. In the midst of all this, the Prince had no-one he could really trust, except the man Franco had appointed as his professor of law, Torcuato Fernandez-Miranda. A month to the day before his death, Franco was well enough to talk to the Prince about replacing Alejandro Rodriguez Valcarcel, whose term as President of the Cortes (Parliament) and of the Consejo del Reino (the Cabinet), ended on November 26th. The Prince proposed Fernandez-Miranda but Franco commented: “Yes, he intelligent but too many people dislike him”. He didn’t say anything to the Prince but later that day he informed Rodriguez Valcarcel that his mandate would be renewed. The news alarmed Juan Carlos because Rodriguez Valcarcel was one of many Francoists who believed he should succeed Franco only in his ceremonial functions while they executed Franco’s will, that is, the continuity of the regime. The Prince hastily arranged a meeting with Fernandez-Miranda to discuss this new obstacle. The notes the latter took at the meeting revealed that Juan Carlos was determined to dissociate himself from a political system that was going nowhere and to break free of Francoist politicians. Juan Carlos was also adamant that he would not to accept conditions or limits and said he wanted new faces in the first government under the monarchy to “create surprise with their sheer novelty”. As it was, Juan Carlos managed to get half of what he wanted. Franco died on November 20th, eight days before Rodiquez Valcarcel’s term was to be renewed and Juan Carlos was able to install Fernandez-Miranda as President of the Cortes. But in exchange for that, he agreed to let Carlos Arias Navarro to continue as Prime Minister, which disappointed many people because Arias was close to the Bunker, the Franco hard-liners who surrounded the dictator’s widow, Carmen Polo. Even so, as president of the Cortes Fernandez-Miranda used his considerable political skills to introduce the Political Reform Law which led to what is known as the “hara-kiri franquista”. By approving it, the members of the Cortes, who all owed their position to Franco, were literally voting themselves out of the country’s political life. Fernandez-Miranda’s idea was to form a two-party system – one conservative and the other more liberal, like the original Spanish Workers Socialist Party (PSOE) led by Rodolfo Llopis, which was much more moderate than the so-called Renovated PSOE led by Felipe Gonzalez and Alfonso Guerra. But political change is a bit like a crack in the wall of a dam, which finally bursts open under the enormous pressure of the water behind it. More than 100 political parties – most of them with just a handful of members – took part in the first free post-Franco election in June 1977. It now looks as if that flood has finally subsided and Fernandez-Miranda’s wish is finally materialising – there are only two parties with any chance of governing Spain these days, the PSOE (Socialists) and the conservative Partido Popular. As if there weren’t enough political shenanigans going on around him at home, the Prince also had to contend with the problem of one of Spain’s last colonial outposts, the Spanish Sahara, which the Moroccans were determined to take back. Juan Carlos realised that a colonial war was the last thing he needed just then and decided to let the Sahara go without bloodshed. Then he heard that his father, Don Juan de Borbon, in exile in Portugal, was planning to state in public that the succession process was illegal. However, Gen Manuel Diez Alegria visited Don Juan and convinced him that the senior generals would only accept Juan Carlos as king. And Franco still lingered on. To be continued.

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