Spain’s King Juan Carlos has announced he will hand over the crown to his son Prince Felipe, ending a 39-year reign that guided Spain from dictatorship to democracy but was later weakened by scandals.
The 76-year-old, crowned in November 1975 after the death of General Francisco Franco, said on Monday he wanted to hand over to “a younger generation” after several turbulent years in Spain.
Juan Carlos was well liked for decades, but discontent over the country’s economic crisis and a corruption scandal embroiling his family hurt his popularity.
Years of economic crisis “have awakened in us a desire for renewal, to overcome and correct mistakes and open the way to a decidedly better future”, he said in a televised address.
“Today a younger generation deserves to step into the front line, with new energies,” said the king, dressed in grey suit and green tie.
“For all these reasons… I have decided to end my reign and abdicate the crown of Spain.”
Spain’s new king will be his son Felipe de Borbon, Prince of Asturias, a six foot six inch (1.98-metre) tall former Olympic yachtsman.
He has been relatively unscathed by the family’s scandals.
The future King Felipe VI “embodies stability, which is the mark of identity of the monarchy,” Juan Carlos said.
“The prince of Asturias has the maturity, the readiness and the sense of responsibility needed to take on with full guarantees the leadership of the state and open a new phase of hope.”
More reserved than the jovial Juan Carlos, Felipe has nonetheless gained support as his father’s image has suffered.
A corruption scandal implicating his youngest daughter Cristina and her husband Inaki Urdangarin have plunged the palace into crisis.
The king was damaged most of all by the scandal centring on Urdangarin’s business affairs, which broke out in 2011 and dragged in Cristina, who was formally named as a suspect this year.
Juan Carlos further angered Spaniards by going on a luxury elephant-hunting safari to Botswana in April 2012 as his subjects struggled in a recession.
His ailing health also raised questions about his future. The king had been looking frailer and spent several months leaning on crutches after a string of operations.
Between May 2010 and November 2013, he had surgery nine times: on a benign lump in his lung, his right knee, an Achilles tendon, a slipped disc, two operations on his right hip and three on his left.
Royal biographer Cesar de la Lama said Juan Carlos had been thinking about abdicating since the start of the year.
“As a king who has abdicated, his stature will increase greatly,” he told AFP.
“The Spanish people will never forget all he has done during his reign.”