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Damian Corrigan

Could the King of Spain Abdicate?

By April 17, 2012

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The Spanish King, Juan Carlos I, has found himself in hot water recently over an elephant hunting trip to Botswana while his country suffers a severe economic crisis, with calls in some quarters for his abdication. So what are the chances of the King of Spain abdicating and what would happen if he did?

Though an abdication would be an extreme step to take, Spain's recent history and current economic and political climate means the threat is very real.

Juan Carlos I was named successor to Francisco Franco by the dictator himself, with the understanding that the new king would keep Franco's authoritarian state going after his death. Juan Carlos's 'betrayal' of the dying leader, a man still beloved by some elements of Spanish society, angers the far right and not-so-far-right to this day.

Add to that the strong Republican movement in Spain (Republican in the sense of wanting Spain to be a Republic and abolish the monarchy) and you have a sizeable minority of people at both ends of the political spectrum who would like to see the back of Juan Carlos I.

But how vocal - and how physical - could these demands become? After all, Franco died of old age, in power, the only dictator in Europe to do so (excepting perhaps Yugoslavia's Tito, though the Yugoslavs did later overthrow the system). It took the king himself to demolish the system from the top down, to the disapproval of many of his subjects. Will the Spanish of this century show their disapproval in the way their parents and grandparents didn't in the last?

Quite possibly. Spain took to the streets after the Madrid bombings of 2004, angry at the government's handling of the terrorist attacks. Who knows how the anger would have dissipated if there hadn't been elections days later in which to oust the government peacefully? More recently, the indignados, Spain's answer to the Occupy movement, have paralysed Spanish city centers with their peaceful protests. Spanish unemployment is at more than 20%, with more than half of under-25-year-olds out of work. A change of governments in the recent elections has done little to settle the nerves of the financial world or of the Spanish people. A general strike has already taken place.  Spain's debt costs have soared in recent days.

People need someone to blame and someone to hate. It is difficult to decide who to blame, but Juan Carlos I fits the bill as someone to hate.

So, a forced abdication is possible. But is it likely? Not at this stage, but who knows how the scandal will develop? We can be more certain that the calls for abdication will remain generally peaceful. In all of the turmoil that Spain has suffered in recent years, no protest has turned to mass violence. Arrests have been limited to a few extremists in most cases.   And if the rumours started by film director Pedro Almodovar are to be believed, Juan Carlos is a man who knows the limits of constitutional power (he set his own limits in the first place, remember) and is not likely to outstay his welcome.

But what would happen next if Juan Carlos was to abdicate? This is an easy one. The king's heir, Prince Felipe, is generally popular. He is married to a glamorous former TV presenter. A transition to Felipe should be smooth and, again, peaceful.

I have received a number of emails asking if Spain is safe to travel to at present. It is. Spain is not Greece. While Greece is verging on a failed state, Spain as a country is still functioning, even if its economy is not. As the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office website says, "Most visits are trouble free". That situation is not likely to change any time soon.

See also: Interesting Facts About Spain

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