Spain's scandal-hit royals look to new king and queen

Spain's scandal-hit royals look to new king and queen

MADRID - Agence France-Presse
Spains scandal-hit royals look to new king and queen

People wave Republican flags during an anti-royalist demonstration at Catalunya square in Barcelona June 2. REUTERS Photo

Spain's scandal-hit royal family looked to a new king- and queen-in-waiting to mend its fortunes as King Juan Carlos called an end to his 39-year reign on June 2.

The 76-year-old monarch said he would hand over the crown to his son Prince Felipe, 46, hoping to revitalise the palace and the country after years of scandal and recession.,

Felipe, a tall former Olympic yachtsman, will take the throne with his wife Letizia, a glamorous 41-year-old former newsreader who will be Spain's first "commoner" queen.

An act of parliament is needed to bring Juan Carlos's abdication into force. Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy called a cabinet meeting for Tuesday to draw up the required legislation. Rajoy said he hoped Felipe would be proclaimed king "very soon".

Crowned in November 1975 after the death of general Francisco Franco, Juan Carlos won wide respect for his role in building modern Spain.

But a corruption scandal struck his family in 2011 at the height of an economic crisis and undermined his popularity.

The following year he sparked fresh outrage by hunting elephants in Botswana while ordinary Spaniards struggled through a recession.  Years of economic crisis "have awakened in us a desire for renewal, to overcome and correct mistakes and open the way to a decidedly better future", the king said in a televised address.

"Today a younger generation deserves to step into the front line, with new energies," said the monarch, looking relaxed in a grey suit and green tie.

"For all these reasons... I have decided to end my reign and abdicate the crown of Spain." The future king, who will be crowned Felipe VI, "has the maturity, the readiness and the sense of responsibility needed to take on the leadership of the state and open a new phase of hope", Juan Carlos said.

Tough context

Experts warned Felipe has a tough job ahead of him to unite a country suffering from a recession that ended last year, with an unemployment rate still close to 26 percent.

A corruption scandal implicating the king's youngest daughter Cristina and her husband Inaki Urdangarin has plunged the palace into a crisis of its own.

"It is a very difficult moment to come to the throne," said Jose Apezarana, author of several books on the royals. "We have a country that is in an economic crisis and the Urdangarin case has not yet been resolved," he told AFP.

"The Urdangarin case is from now on going to wear down Felipe, not Juan Carlos."

In a study by pollster Sigma Dos in January, support for the king fell to 41 percent while those wanting him to abdicate in favour Felipe surged to 62 percent.

Some would prefer no king at all, however. Twitter buzzed on Monday with irreverent messages about Juan Carlos and calls for a referendum on the monarchy.

"I would like for us Spanish people to be able to choose whether we want a monarchy or a republic. The monarchy is obsolete," Alejandro Ricas, a 19-year-old student, told AFP.

Protests took place on June 2 evening with republicans taking to the streets calling for a referendum and the abolition of the monarchy. Juan Carlos shaped Spain's modern history after taking the throne as the dictator Franco's appointed successor.

Defying Franco's supporters, he oversaw the creation of a parliamentary monarchy, with a new constitution approved by referendum in 1978.

He was credited with seeing off an attempted coup in February 1981 when soldiers stormed into parliament shooting and held lawmakers hostage.

But he was undermined late in his reign by the elephant safari and above all the scandal centred on Urdangarin's business affairs, which has dragged in Cristina.  His ailing health also raised questions about his future. Between May 2010 and November 2013, he had surgery nine times, including five hip operations.

Juan Carlos was the third European monarch of his generation to abdicate in just over a year, after king Albert II of Belgium in July and queen Beatrix of the Netherlands in April 2013.