MADRID (Reuters) - Students in Madrid want their King Juan Carlos University to change its name, a few towns plan the same for their streets, and memes mocking the former monarch are circulating widely after he left the country amid a corruption scandal.
The constitution, political fragmentation and opinion polls that show the population is divided on the issue mean the latest scandal, involving investigations into a high-speed train contract and offshore accounts, is unlikely to change Spain’s political system soon.
But the former king’s abrupt departure abroad to an undisclosed location - announced on Monday and which he said was to allow his son King Felipe to reign without being affected by his woes - are making waves at home.
Authorities in the Madrid suburb of Pinto were among the first to act, voting last week to change the name of the town’s Juan Carlos I park and removing his statue.
“We considered it (the park) should not carry a name that is allegedly associated with dishonesty and with corruption,” Pinto deputy mayor Lola Rodriguez told Reuters on Wednesday.
“It is true that he (Juan Carlos) has not been judged, but we believe that he is not going to be judged, so waiting for a trial to take place would have been a little absurd.”
Juan Carlos came to the throne in 1975 after the death of General Francisco Franco and was widely respected for his role in helping guide Spain from dictatorship to democracy. But recent scandals have tarnished his image, prompting him to abdicate in 2014 and now to leave the country.
In June, the Spanish Supreme Court opened an investigation into Juan Carlos’s involvement in a high-speed rail contract in Saudi Arabia, after Switzerland’s La Tribune de Geneve newspaper reported he had received $100 million from the late Saudi king.
While Juan Carlos is not formally under investigation, details of probes in Spain and Switzerland were leaked to the media, piling on pressure for the king to take action to protect the monarchy. Through his lawyer Juan Carlos has repeatedly declined to comment on the case.
In the park in Pinto, passers-by were divided on the change of name and removal of the statue. “Before there’s a trial one shouldn’t take such hasty decisions,” said 40-year-old Pinto resident Maria Jose Marin.
In Madrid, an online petition to change the name of the university had passed 43,000 signatures by Wednesday afternoon.
“Corruption cases surrounding the Royal Family keep appearing, torpedoing the image of a monarchy that had been presented to us as ‘wholesome’ and ‘humble’,” the petition read.
Amid a flurry of memes on the former monarch’s departure, one Twitter user said the university should be renamed “The university of the exiled king.”
Gijon, in northern Spain, will change the name of its Juan Carlos I avenue, a municipality official said.
Juan Carlos’s whereabouts remain a mystery, with Spanish media saying he is either in the Dominican Republic or Portugal.
Adding to the confusion, La Vanguardia newspaper reported that the ex-monarch had told friends his exit was temporary.
A Royal Palace spokesman and a lawyer for Juan Carlos both said they had nothing to say. They have made no public comment beyond Monday’s announcement of the king’s departure.
The Supreme Court on Wednesday rejected a request to take precautionary measures against Juan Carlos, saying it could not do so for people who are not under formal investigation, according to a copy of the decision posted on Twitter by the pro-independence Catalan group which had made the demand.
Reporting by Nathan Allen, Michael Gore, Marco Trujillo, Ingrid Melander, Paola Luelomo, Joan Faus, Elena Rodriguez; Writing by Ingrid Melander; Editing by Janet Lawrence
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