2 Jun 2014

El Rey abdica: Spain’s King Juan Carlos to abdicate

Spain’s King Juan Carlos is abdicating after almost 40 years on the throne and his son Prince Felipe will succeed him, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy announces.

“His majesty, King Juan Carlos, has just communicated to me his will to give up the throne,” Mr Rajoy said. He added: “I’m convinced this is the best moment for change.”

The king, whose health is failing and has had a number of hip operations in recent years, is stepping down for personal reasons, Mr Rajoy said.

He was Spain’s best spokesman and its best image in every corner of the planet. Spain’s Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy

He adde: “For 39 years he was the best symbol of our peaceful coexistence. His figure is so closely linked to democracy that one cannot be understood without the other. He was Spain’s best spokesman and its best image in every corner of the planet. We will never be able to pay back our debt of gratitude to him.”

The once popular Juan Carlos, 76, who helped smooth Spain’s transition to democracy in the 1970s after the Francisco Franco dictatorship, has lost public support in recent years due to corruption scandals and gaffes.

Spanish newspaper EL PAÍS headlined the news with “el Rey abdica” – “the King abdicates.”

Corruption scandal

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 King’s daughter, Princess Cristina, and her husband, Inaki Urdangarin, are under investigation in a corruption case. Both deny any wrongdoing. 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.

Spain does not have a precise law regulating abdication and succession. Mr Rajoy said his cabinet would meet very soon to set out the steps for Prince Felipe to take over as Felipe VI.

Felipe, 46, 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.

“Felipe’s training, character and broad experience are a solid guarantee that his work will live up to the highest expectations,” Mr Rajoy added.

Elephant hunting trip

Juan Carlos was once beloved for his common touch and was seen as much more accessible than the British royals.

In 2012, at the height of Spain’s financial crisis, the king fell and broke his hip during an elephant-hunting trip in Botswana.

The lavish privately funded safari was secret until his accident and came at a time of particularly harsh public spending cuts.

Sixty-two percent of Spaniards were in favour of the king stepping down, according to a January poll by Sigma Dos. That compared with 45 per cent a year earlier. Only 41 per cent of those polled had a good or very good opinion of the king.

Felipe has a positive rating of 66 per cent and most Spaniards believe the monarchy could recover its prestige if he took the throne, according to the poll. Felipe married divorced journalist Leticia Ortiz in 2004 and they have two daughters.