MADRID: After 39 years on the throne, King Juan Carlos of Spain will abdicate in favour of his son Crown Prince Felipe, the king said in a televised address yesterday.
Hours after the Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy, broke the news, the king explained his decision on Spanish television and radio. He highlighted his pride in the “transformation of Spain” and the “tremendous amount achieved by all” since the country’s transition into democracy.
“Today, when I look back, I cannot help but feel pride and gratitude towards all of you,” he said. The decision to step down, he said, was made after his 76th birthday in January. His son Felipe, he assured Spaniards, “has the maturity, preparation, and sense of responsibility necessary to assume the title of head of state and open a new era of hope which combines the experience and momentum of a new generation.”
Once one of the world’s most popular monarchs, more recently Juan Carlos has been plagued by a series of scandals that have sent his popularity plummeting. A poll by El Mundo last year found that nearly two-thirds of Spaniards thought the king should abdicate.
In contrast, Prince Felipe, a former Olympic yachtsman, has come out relatively unscathed. Frequently photographed while taking their two daughters to school or at shopping malls, Felipe and his wife Letizia Ortiz — a former television news anchor — have cultivated an image of leading a relatively modest lifestyle.
The poll showing rising public support for Juan Carlos to abdicate was a stunning reversal for a leader who in 2012, had earned the approval of almost 80 percent of Spaniards. Taking the throne just two days after the death of Franco in 1975, Juan Carlos won the respect of Spaniards by steering the country from dictatorship to democracy, including foiling a coup attempt in 1981.
But as Spain fell into financial crisis, the king’s standing sank. A particularly low point came when it was revealed that he had taken a luxurious trip to Botswana to hunt elephants, just weeks after telling a reporter that he was so distraught about the growing ranks of the unemployed that he was having trouble sleeping.
Rajoy praised Juan Carlos, calling him a “tireless defender of our interests”. He added: “I’m convinced this is the best moment for change.”
Spain is now expected to change its constitution to make sure Felipe’s first-born daughter Leonor can succeed him. The royal family has said its wants the change to ensure she is next in line to the throne in the event that Felipe’s wife gets pregnant again and gives birth to a boy, who would become monarch under the current constitution.