King of Spain Juan Carlos to abdicate in favor of son

The 76-year-old monarch will be replaced by 46-year-old Crown Prince Felipe

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Spanish King Juan Carlos - who has reigned for 39 years - will abdicate in favor of his son Prince Felipe, the nation announced on Monday, ending his long rule that brought in democracy but was later hit with royal scandals.

“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 king, crowned in November 1975 after the death of autocrat General Francisco Franco, is stepping down amid poor health and with his popularity deeply eroded by scandals swirling around him and his family, as well as financial meltdown in the country.

In his televised nationwide address, the king told Spaniards that he started making a plan to give up the throne after he turned 76 in January.

He said that the 46-year-old Crown Prince Felipe - whose 70 percent approval rating in a recent El Mundo newspaper poll compares to his father’s 41 percent - is ready to be king and will "open a new era of hope,” according to the Associated Press.

His successor Felipe would be required “tackle with determination the transformations that the current situation demands and confront the challenges of tomorrow with renewed intensity and dedication,” the king said.

Spain crown prince Felipe de Borbon and his wife princess Letizia Ortiz wave during a ceremony at Narino Palace in Bogota May 27, 2009. (Reuters)
Spain crown prince Felipe de Borbon and his wife princess Letizia Ortiz wave during a ceremony at Narino Palace in Bogota May 27, 2009. (Reuters)

He hands over the throne to 46-year-old Felipe de Borbon, a 1.98-metre (six foot six inches) tall former Olympic yachtsman, who has been relatively unscathed by the scandals that battered the rest of the family.

Frequently smiling but more reserved than his father, Felipe had long suffered from comparisons with the easy-going Juan Carlos, who played a historic role in Spain’s post-dictatorship transition.

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But Juan Carlos’s image took a blow after he took a luxury elephant-hunting safari to Botswana in April 2012 as his subjects struggled in a recession, with one in four people unemployed.

Further damaging the royal family’s standing, a judge opened a corruption investigation in 2010 centered on former Olympic handball player Inaki Urdangarin, the husband of his youngest daughter, Cristina, who has also been accused of involvement.

At the same time, Felipe’s approval rating has risen.

Felipe wed former television presenter Letizia Ortiz in a glittering ceremony in Madrid’s Almudena Cathedral in 2004 after several previous romantic dalliances, including one with a Norwegian lingerie model.

Ortiz, a 41-year-old divorcee, was the first commoner to come in line for the Spanish throne.

Less popular

According to a poll carried out in late December 2013, the number of people wanting the king to abdicate in favor of Felipe surged by 17 per cent over 2013 to 62 per cent.

Sixty-six percent had a positive view of the prince and 56 per cent thought he could improve the royals’ image if he took over.
Juan Carlos is not the first European monarch to abdicate recently.

Last year, Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands announced her abdication last year after a 33-year reign, in favor of her son Willem-Alexander.

She was quickly followed by her Belgian counterpart, King Albert.

And around the same time, Pope Benedict XVI shocked the Catholic world by becoming the first pontiff in 600 years to step down.

(With the Associated Press, AFP, and Reuters)

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