MADRID, Spain – Spanish lawmakers opened a historic session Wednesday, June 11, to approve 76-year-old King Juan Carlos’ abdication, paving the way for his son Felipe to take the scandal-hit throne despite anti-royalist protests.
Nine days after Juan Carlos called an end to a 39-year reign that guided Spain from dictatorship to democracy, parliament prepared for the future King Felipe VI to inherit the crown.
Anti-monarchist activists called for protests outside the building during the debate.
The succession must be enshrined in law under Spain’s 1978 constitution.
Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy predicted on the eve of the debate that a “great majority” of members of parliament would vote in favor.
The law is backed by the ruling conservative Popular Party, the main opposition Socialists and the small centrist Unión Progreso y Democracia (UPyD) party, which together have 300 seats in the 350-seat lower house of parliament.
Once passed by the lower house, the succession will then have to be approved by the Senate, Spain’s upper house of parliament, which will vote on it on June 17.
The 46-year-old Prince Felipe is expected to be sworn in by parliament on June 19.
Juan Carlos won widespread respect for defending Spain’s democracy, notably appearing on television to thwart an attempted military coup in February 1981.
But gaffes and a corruption scandal centered on his youngest daughter Cristina and her husband Inaki Urdangarin sent his popularity diving in the dying days of his reign.
His son Felipe, a 46-year-old former Olympic yachtsman married to glamorous former television news presenter Letizia with whom he has two daughters, 8-year-old Leonor and 7-year-old Sofia, commands greater popular support.
Calls for referendum
Nevertheless, tiny left-wing and regional parties, including the United Left coalition and the Catalan separatist Catalan Republic Left, have said they will vote against the law and instead call for a referendum on the future of the monarchy.
A few Socialist lawmakers have asked for a free vote on the law.
Socialist party spokeswoman Soraya Rodriguez reminded her party’s lawmakers on Tuesday that they had to vote as a bloc in favor of the abdication law.
Other parties, such as the conservative Catalan nationalist CiU party, plan to abstain.
Within hours of the king’s announcement on June 2 that he was abdicating, thousands of people massed in central Madrid and other cities to demand a referendum on the monarchy, which was only restored in Spain in 1975 after the death of General Francisco Franco.
A majority of Spaniards, 62%, want a referendum on the future of the monarchy at some point, according to a Metroscopia poll published Sunday in top-selling centre-left newspaper El Pais.
If such a plebiscite were held, nearly one voter in two, or 49%, would prefer to have a monarchy with Felipe as king while 36% would support a republic, according to the poll.
A separate survey by Sigma Dos published by center-right newspaper El Mundo on Monday found popular support for the monarchy has climbed since Juan Carlos announced his abdication.
Overall, 55.7% said they wanted Spain to remain a monarchy, up from a historic low of 49.9% when the same question was posed in January.
Support for the monarchy is weakest among younger Spaniards, who do not recall the king’s role in the steering Spain to democracy and who bear the brunt of Spain’s sky-high jobless rate.
Felipe urged Spaniards to unite for a better future during his first speech since his father announced his abdication, in what was seen as a reference to growing independence drives in Catalonia and the Basque Country.
Unlike when Juan Carlos was proclaimed king in 1975, no foreign dignitaries have been invited to witness Felipe accede to the throne and there will be no religious service. – Rappler.com
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