Spain's King Juan Carlos abdicates in favour of son Prince Felipe
Spain's King Juan Carlos announced today he would abdicate in favour of his more popular son Prince Felipe in an apparent bid 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.
The king's younger daughter, Princess Cristina, and her husband, Iñaki Urdangarin, are under investigation in a corruption case. A judge in Palma de Mallorca is expected to decide soon whether to put Urdangarin on trial on charges of embezzling 6 million euros in public funds through his charity. Both he and Cristina deny any 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.
The country is just pulling out of a difficult and long recession that has seen faith in politicians, the royal family and other institutions all dwindle.
The low-key Felipe has had an increasingly important role in ceremonial events in the past year and has not been stained by the corruption case involving his sister and her husband.
Spain does not have a precise law regulating abdication and succession. Rajoy's cabinet was scheduled to have an extraordinary meeting tomorrow to set out the steps for Prince Felipe to take over as Felipe VI. The transition will likely be accomplished by passing a law through parliament, where Rajoy's People's Party has an absolute majority.
Spain's next king, Felipe VI, strikes a low key contrast to his extrovert father, which could help him restore popularity to a monarchy battered by scandal.
The 46-year-old, married to a former TV news anchor, has not been implicated in the allegations of royal extravagance and corruption that tarnished the last years of the reign of his father Juan Carlos.
But the legacy of the 39-year reign of the once beloved king hangs over him and Spain no longer needs the monarchy for political stability as it did when his father took on the role to oversee the transition from dictatorship to democracy.
Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy announced Juan Carlos's planned abdication on Monday, saying Prince Felipe was well prepared to take over.
"His preparation, his character and the wide range of experience he has been acquiring in public affairs over the last 20 years are a solid guarantee that he will be able to carry out his role," said Rajoy.