MADRID — Spain’s King Juan Carlos, who led Spain’s transition from dictatorship to democracy but faced damaging scandals amid the nation’s financial meltdown, announced yesterday he will abdicate in favor of his more popular son so that fresh royal blood can rally the nation.
While the monarchy is largely symbolic, Juan Carlos’ surprise decision may hold implications for a burning Spanish issue: the fate of wealthy Catalonia, which plans to hold a secession referendum this fall.
Abdication in favor of Crown Prince Felipe is expected to bring constitutional revisions to guarantee the new king’s daughter will succeed him. That could create momentum for further constitutional changes aimed at easing Catalan secessionist fervor, analysts say.
The 76-year-old Juan Carlos said Felipe, 46, is ready to be king and will “open a new era of hope.” The son certainly has greater command over the hearts of his people: Felipe’s 70 percent approval in a recent El Mundo newspaper poll dwarfs Juan Carlos’ 40.
Juan Carlos didn’t mention the scandals or Catalonia by name or specify what issues his son must prioritize as the next head of state for Spain. He only stressed that Felipe will need to “tackle with determination the transformations that the current situation demands and confront the challenges of tomorrow with renewed intensity and dedication.”
The king told Spaniards in his nationwide address that he started making a plan to give up the throne after he turned 76 in January.
Since then, Spain has embarked on what appears to be a sluggish but steady economic recovery. Its biggest problems are a 25 percent unemployment rate and the drive by the wealthy northeastern region of Catalonia to hold a secession vote in November — one labeled illegal by the central government in Madrid.
Now that Felipe is set to become king, Spain is expected to change its constitution to make sure his first-born daughter Leonor can succeed him.