Spanish lawmakers yesterday opened a historic session to approve 76-year-old King Juan Carlos’ abdication, paving the way for his son, Felipe, to take the 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.
Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy opened the debate by defending the king and the monarchy, which he called “the best symbol of the unity of the state.”
“Spain is a parliamentary monarchy with deep roots because Spaniards want it to be so,” he added.
The abdication law is backed by the ruling conservative Popular Party, the main opposition Socialists and the small centrist 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 the bill on Tuesday.
The 46-year-old Prince Felipe is expected to be sworn in by parliament two days later.
Anti-monarchist activists called for protests outside the building during the debate.
The succession must be enshrined in law under Spain’s 1978 constitution.
Juan Carlos won widespread respect for defending Spain’s democracy, notably appearing on television to thwart an attempted military coup in February 1981.
However, 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.
Felipe, a former Olympic yachtsman married to glamorous former television news presenter Letizia, with whom he has two daughters, eight-year-old Leonor and seven-year-old Sofia, commands greater popular support.
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.
During the debate Socialist leader Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba defended Spain’s 1978 constitution, which established a parliamentary democracy with the king as a mostly ceremonial head of state saying it “paved the way for peace.”
Other parties, such as the conservative Catalan nationalist CiU party, plan to abstain.
A majority of Spaniards, 62 percent, want a referendum on the future of the monarchy at some point, according to a Metroscopia poll published on Sunday in top-selling center-left newspaper El Pais.
If such a plebiscite were held, nearly one voter in two, or 49 percent, would prefer to have a monarchy with Felipe as king while 36 percent 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.