No traction for would-be king

Associated Press

Duarte Pio is a soft-spoken, unassuming 62-year-old who would be king of Portugal.

Pio would by birthright be sovereign if Portugal were to restore its monarchy, and he has been using public interest in the Feb. 8 centenary of the assassination of King Carlos I to make his case for a return to royal influence on a continent proud of its democratic traditions.

Pio contends that at the beginning of the last century, before republicans deposed Carlos I's successor, Manuel II, by force in 1910, Portugal packed a bigger economic and diplomatic punch than it does now as one of the European Union's lightweights.

"The conclusion we can draw is that the cause of our decline was the creation of a republic, which destabilized the country. We lost a lot and didn't gain much," Pio said in an interview.

A monarchy can "inspire self-esteem and self-confidence better than republics can," Pio said. Monarchs "carry a sentimental weight that has a huge influence in public life."

A hundred years ago, all but three European states -- France, Switzerland and tiny San Marino -- had monarchies.

Two world wars changed that. Today, Europe has 10 constitutional monarchies: Britain, the Netherlands, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Luxembourg, Spain, Monaco, Liechtenstein and Belgium.

Executive power lies with elected governments, and modern monarchs have a limited scope of action. They are as likely to be seen in glossy celebrity magazines as at official functions.

Pio, however, points to Spain and Belgium, where monarchs are credited with holding their countries together during crises, as evidence of how a sovereign can pay dividends: Spain's Juan Carlos helped snuff out a 1981 coup attempt, and Albert II of Belgium mediated a recent government crisis.

Like most other descendants of Europe's once-mighty kings and queens, the heir to the Portuguese throne is a powerless and largely disregarded spectator of his country's fortunes.

Few would argue, though, with his assessment that Portugal has been on the slide.

A hundred years after shots rang out in a Lisbon square at the end of a sunny afternoon, killing the 44-year-old king and his eldest son, Prince Luis Filipe, as they traveled in an open carriage, Portugal has one of the EU's frailest economies.

About 2 million Portuguese are classified by the EU as living in poverty, on the minimum wage of about $590 a month. The inevitable comparison with wealthier EU nations makes the Portuguese downhearted, and there is a mood of disenchantment with politicians who, many feel, have kept Portugal among Europe's poorest countries for generations.

Pio, whose father was a distant cousin of Manuel II, reckons he can help with that. He says he doesn't want the absolute power of past monarchs and would cooperate with the elected government by keeping a helpful hand on the country's rudder.

Thanks to public events marking the regicide's centenary, Pio is getting noticed for first time since his glamorous 1995 wedding to a commoner.

Pio's chances of sitting on the throne are slim, though.

There are no signs that his ambition has struck a chord with the Portuguese. The last opinion poll, in 2004, found almost 70% of those questioned preferred a republic. The Monarchy Party is tiny and at the last general election in which it stood alone, in 2002, it captured slightly more than 1,000 votes.

Also a factor: Portugal's constitution prohibits rule by anyone other than democratically elected officials.

Portuguese historian and newspaper columnist Rui Ramos, author of a book on the assassinated king, likens the monarchy debate to "a kind of parlor game, with no real relevance."

The president already acts as one of the administration's checks and balances, Ramos said.

Ingrid Seward, editor-in-chief of London-based Majesty magazine, said she hadn't detected any public desire in Europe to expand the official roles of royal families.

"Quite the reverse," she said. "I don't think anyone really would take it very seriously, apart from a few people."

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
57°