- The once popular Juan Carlos, who helped smooth Spain’s transition to democracy in the 1970s after the Francisco Franco dictatorship, seemed increasingly out of touch in recent years
Spain’s King Juan Carlos said on Monday he would abdicate in favour of his son Prince Felipe, aiming to revive the scandal-hit monarchy at a time of economic hardship and growing discontent with the wider political elite.
“A new generation is quite rightly demanding to take the lead role,” Juan Carlos, 76, said on television, hours after a surprise announcement from Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy that the monarch would step down after almost 40 years on the throne.
The once popular Juan Carlos, who helped smooth Spain’s transition to democracy in the 1970s after the Francisco Franco dictatorship, seemed increasingly out of touch in recent years.
He took a secret luxury elephant-hunting trip to Botswana in 2012, a time when one in four Spanish workers was jobless and the government teetered on the brink of default.
A corruption scandal in the family and his visible infirmity after repeated surgery in recent years have also eroded public support. Polls show greater support for the low-key Felipe, 46, who has not been tarnished by the corruption allegations.
The king’s younger daughter, Princess Cristina, and her husband, Inaki Urdangarin, are under investigation and a judge is expected to decide soon whether to put Urdangarin on trial on charges of embezzling 6 million euros in public funds through his charity. He and Cristina deny wrongdoing.
The king, who walks with a cane after multiple hip operations and struggled to speak clearly during an important speech earlier this year, is stepping down for personal reasons, Rajoy said.
But a source at the royal palace told a foreign news outfit the abdication was for political reasons. The source said the king decided in January to step down, but delayed the announcement until after the European Union election on May 25.
Political analysts said the ruling conservative People’s Party (PP) was eager to put the more popular Felipe on the throne to try to combat increasingly anti-monarchist sentiment, after small leftist and anti-establishment parties did surprisingly well in the election.
The country is just pulling out of a long recession that dented faith in politicians, the royal family and other institutions. The PP and the Socialists, which have dominated politics since the return to democracy, are committed to the monarchy, but they polled less than 50 percent between them in the recent election.
Smaller leftist parties Podemos, United Left and Equo green party, which together took 20 percent in the European vote, all called on Monday for a referendum on the monarchy.