06/02/2014 03:37 pm ET Updated Aug 02, 2014

Spain's King Abdicated. What Now?


After the surprising news this week -- which was not, in fact, surprising, given that the abdication of King Juan Carlos has long been bandied about as the most realistic way for the Spanish monarchy to bring its institutional crisis to an end -- the many questions now emerging are two-fold.

The first, which is the purely legal-constitutional question, is the easiest to resolve, mostly because there's political will to make it happen though not particularly because our laws actually foresaw this occasion with any detail. The Spanish constitution limits itself, in Article 57.5, to asserting that, "Abdications and renunciations and whatever question of fact or of right that occurs in the order of succession to the Crown will be resolved by organic national law."

As such, the immediate next steps will consist of the courts approving said law via, we suppose, an expedited process. Thus in many ways it will be the court system that will give the abdication its content, and will outline the processes and timeline for Prince Felipe's elevation to the throne. This urgency, however, makes manifest a problem that many of us constitutionalists have long criticized: the absence of specific regulation regarding the institutional positioning of the king, his heir, and all other possible exceptional and/or interim situations that can come up when leadership is supported through family continuity and not the electoral process. And that's not to mention the embarrassing persistence of male preference in succession to the throne, as outlined in Article 57, which our mediocre elected officials have shown neither the desire nor the courage to reform in the past more than 30 years.

With the legal question resolved (which, I repeat, I do believe will be easily covered), I fear that the issue that will really linger is the whole romantic-patriotic-journalistic exaltation over the figure of the king (from whom I won't take away credit due, but nor will I overlook errors made). This may be the most important of the post-abdication issues we face. For me, as a jurist and a citizen, it's the one that sounds alarms in my democratic soul. I'm referring to the debate over the leadership of the state -- a debate that can no longer be conditional on dead weight from a historic moment. That is, arguments of import during the transition to democracy lack value, or at least lack such value, now, three decades later. This is because the increasing loss of prestige of an institution that, per se, supports itself on the excellence of its subjects or ceases to make sense, but also because political maturity demands the revision of various clauses from the 1978 Spanish constitution. Some need rethinking because they were bungled in the moment; others because they've simply been overshadowed by events over time.

In the same way that some political notions that were once marginal now increasingly occupy a place in mainstream political debate, it is necessary for Spaniards to endow ourselves with a new constitutional text, one that will allow us to enshrine those ideas that, for historic reasons, we did not in 1978. Such that our constitution brings to a close a transitional dynamic that left many skeletons in the closet. Such that it truly emphasizes the well-being of the people and improved democratic participation. Such that it serves, together with other urgent and necessary reforms, to end or at least diminish the fissures that are bleeding to death a social-democratic state of law whose defining adjectives seem to matter less and less.

It will be particularly rough going for Prince Felipe as he seeks to establish the legitimacy of his office (an eternal struggle for monarchies); but without it, his role will continue to grow even weaker than it is today -- in large part because he is not the heir to "Juancarlos-ism." But also, happily, because younger generations have learned a good part (if not all) of the rules essential to democracy. Just a stone's throw away, we've born witness to so many European elections, the results of which have served to yank off the veil that was already struggling to hide many of the system's flaws.

Such it is that we enter into tumultuous and pleasurably democratic times. Because we cannot forget that democracy implies circulation of ideas, pluralism, free voices in the public square (although there are still some who don't seem to show much countenance that last idea.) Free voices that, today more than ever, have every right to question the continuity of an institution constructed on inequality and to fight peacefully using democratic weapons for the launch of a constitutional process that will bring us closer to the constitutional system for which many of us dream.

This article was first published on the author's blog, Las horas.

This piece was translated from Spanish and originally appeared on HuffPost Spain.