With a major opposition demonstration called for Katmandu today, in defiance of a government curfew, Nepal’s crisis seems to be moving
inexorably towards its climax. The time for King Gyanendra to make
concessions has clearly passed; unless he can summon the force to crush
his opponents, only his departure is going to be able to satisfy the
Nepalese. The US ambassador did not demur the other day when a reporter
suggested that it could come to a midnight helicopter flight from the
So it looks as if another monarchy will bite the dust. Coincidentally,
Spain last weekend commemorated the 75th anniversary of the
establishment of the second Spanish republic, with the fall of its
monarchy in 1931. This is still a touchy subject in Spain; the second
republic lasted only five years before civil war broke out, which led
eventually to the victory of General Franco’s forces and a fascist
dictatorship that lasted until Franco’s death in 1975.
But Spain is an extremely interesting case, because the restoration of
monarchy was a great success: Franco had selected Juan Carlos, grandson
of Alfonso XIII (who had fled in 1931), as his successor, but the new
king restored democracy in Spain, defended it courageously when
disaffected Francoists staged a coup, and has since reigned as a
constitutional monarch with widespread support.
Spain is interesting, however, for its rarity. To the best of my
knowledge, no other monarchy has been successfully restored in more
than a hundred years. The rule is that monarchies disappear one by one,
but don’t make comebacks. After the fall of communism, monarchy was
discussed as an option in a number of the newly-liberated eastern
European countries, most of which had once been monarchies. But none of
them ever tried it – although Bulgaria for a time elected its former
king as prime minister.
There is no doubt that monarchy is a waning trend. Nepal’s is not the
only one in trouble; the future of the Belgian monarchy is also being
questioned this week, after an embarrassing performance by the heir
apparent on an official tour to South Africa. And several monarchies,
Britain’s (and Australia’s) among them, seem to be kept alive only on
the strength of a respected and long-serving incumbent.
That makes Juan Carlos’s success in Spain all the more remarkable. Is
it perhaps something that others should have tried? Or is it just the
exception that proves the rule?