Published On: Mon, Jun 23rd, 2014

Felipe VI proclaimed new king of Spain among protests from thousands of Spaniards

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Felipe VI was sworn in Thursday June 19, as Spain’s new king, bringing a fresh face to the Spanish monarchy at a time when its popularity ratings have hit historic lows.

The 46-year-old monarch took an oath and was then proclaimed king, without a formal coronation, during a special joint session of Spain’s parliament. No foreign royals or heads of state were invited.

“I have great hope for the future of Spain … a nation whose destiny has been intertwined with my destiny since I was born,” Felipe told those assembled, citing the “deep emotion” he felt. His voice broke occasionally during an address that lasted 25 minutes.

He spoke of a “united and diverse” Spain, an acknowledgment of the regional identities that have riven parts of the country, and closed by saying “thank you” in four regional languages: Castilian Spanish, Catalan, Basque and Galician. He urged lawmakers to act for the good of the Spanish people, who have been hit with massive unemployment and economic hardship during Europe’s debt crisis.

Royal Family

Royal Family

The new king also paid tribute to the service of his parents, the former King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia. Only Sofia attended the parliamentary proclamation.

The no-frills ceremony Thursday morning was followed by a parade, with the new king and his wife, Queen Letizia, riding down Madrid’s Gran Via to the Royal Palace, about a mile from the parliament building, in a convertible black Rolls Royce. There they reunited with Felipe’s parents, and three generations of royals waved to supporters together from a balcony: Juan Carlos and Sofia, Felipe and Letizia, and the new monarch’s two young daughters.

Thousands of Spaniards waving flags cheered their new monarchs outside the parliament building, which was draped in a red-and-gold embroidered tapestry two stories tall, bearing Spain’s royal coat of arms. The conservative Spanish government denied permission to at least four anti-monarchy groups to hold demonstrations.

The main arteries through central Madrid were closed to traffic, and thousands of police officers lined the streets, with snipers stationed on rooftops. Lampposts were festooned with Spanish flags. Helicopters buzzed overhead.

Felipe and Letizia arrived at the parliament building in a motorcade, escorted by motorcycle police. A few spectators shouted, “Viva el rey!” (“Long live the king!”).

Felipe wore a navy-blue military uniform with a red sash around his waist, signifying the highest rank in the Spanish military, and stood with his wife and their two young daughters on a platform as the national anthem played. Inside, the assembled audience gave him a long ovation.

“The parliament has great hopes for your reign,” said Jesus Posada, the president of the lower house of parliament, adding that he hoped for a “magnificent period of progress and stability for Spain.”

“Viva el rey!” the audience cried after Felipe swore his oath. “Viva España!”

Juan Carlos ruled for 39 years, presiding over Spain’s transition to democracy in the late 1970s. The 76-year-old’s health is deteriorating, and his otherwise popular reign has been tainted by scandals in recent years. He was forced to offer an unprecedented apology in 2012 for going elephant-hunting in Africa at a time of deep economic crisis back home. His daughter Cristina is being investigated for alleged embezzlement of public money. Polls show Juan Carlos’ public approval rating at a record low of 38%.

On June 2, he announced his abdication in favor of his son, the crown prince. Felipe is more popular than his father but faces stark challenges: a hobbled Spanish economy, regional separatist movements in Catalonia and elsewhere, and rising discontent with the monarchy itself.

The outgoing king signed his abdication notice late Wednesday in a solemn ceremony at the Royal Palace, where he received a standing ovation from 150 invited guests. His abdication took effect at midnight, when Felipe then officially became king, hours before his formal swearing-in.

Protests against Monarchy

Six days after the announcement of King Juan Carlos’ abdication, thousands of Spaniards flooded Madrid’s downtown Puerta del Sol, relentless in their pursuit of a referendum to do away with what they see as an out-of-touch and outdated monarchy. Fifty cities have erupted in protest.

Public sentiment in a country struggling with a huge recession and plagued by several years of bad government decision-making reached a new tipping point when on Monday, June 2, when King Juan Carlos announced his abdication in favor of his son, 46-year-old Crown Prince Felipe.

Fifty of Spain’s largest cities have now joined in the chorus of national discontent.

Protests throughout the country

Protests throughout the country

Protesters waved the red, purple and gold flags of the Second Spanish Republic and banners reading “No more kings! Referendum! Real democracy without kings” and “Referendum for a constitutional process.”

The same scene could be seen Monday after the abdication led to a spontaneous outpouring of 20,000 people onto Madrid’s streets in a protest coordinated by the 15-M anti-austerity movement. “Spain, tomorrow, will be Republican,” protesters chanted. On Saturday, the protesters repeated their demands.

People hold placards and flags of the Spanish Second Republic during a demonstration

People hold placards and flags of the Spanish Second Republic during a demonstration (AFP PHOTO / GERARD JULIEN)

The crowds wanted to change the course of Spain’s political history, but protests were represed and Felipe’s coronation took place on June 19. The protesters tried to take the streets in a demonstration of people power as their only option, as both the ruling right-wing Popular party and the centrist Socialist opposition – which oversaw the transition in Parliament – are overwhelmingly in favor of keeping the monarchy.

In Barcelona, the capital of Catalonia – which has been seeking complete independence from Madrid for decades – thousands also flooded the streets to proclaim a republic.

Activists, shouting “Dear Felipe, nobody has chosen you,” swore to pursue independence.

Anti-royalist protesters   (AFP PHOTO / GERARD JULIEN)

Anti-royalist protesters (AFP PHOTO / GERARD JULIEN)

Spain’s monarchy, descended directly from the ancient regime Bourbons who ruled France before and after the 1789 revolution, has had a checkered history. Juan Carlos’s grandfather, King Alfonso XIII, fled the country in the face of a popular revolt in 1931 and the country became a republic.

The reputation of the royal family was at its peak in 1975 when, on the death of fascist dictator General Francisco Franco, Juan Carlos was invited back to become king. He initially enjoyed widespread popularity for playing an active part in building a modern democracy, but when Spain was in the throes of a deep economic recession in 2011, a series of corruption scandals made a huge dent in the royal family’s reputation. The King’s son-in-law and his companies became the focus of a fraud investigation involving millions in public money.

Afterward, anything the monarchy did that was out of place or in contrast to the staggering unemployment and misery of the Spaniards was perceived as a great outrage.

Although Juan Carlos did not appear to take much heed of the economic and political unrest sweeping Spain in the last few years – instead describing Felipe’s crowning as a sort of renewal and a chance to rebuild things anew – it is now up to the new king to sort out the monarchy’s messy reputation, which he inherited.


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