Thousands gathered for protests demanding a referendum on the Spanish monarchy after King Juan Carlos’s announcement of his abdication on Monday, Al Jazeera reports.
The surprise address came after years of a weak economy, declining support for the monarchy, and a string of family scandals. The throne will pass to his son, Prince Felipe, once parliament approves the succession legislation necessary under Spanish law.
Juan Carlos became king in 1975 upon the death of dictator Francisco Franco, who had restored the Spanish monarchy and proclaimed Juan Carlos his successor. Once beloved for presiding over Spain’s transition to democracy in the wake of Franco’s death and helping quash a military coup in 1981 with a dramatic televised address, in recent years his legacy has been plagued by scandals and gaffes, including the notorious 2012 elephant hunt that lost him the honorary presidency of the Spanish World Wildlife Fund and sent his popularity plummeting.
His family has also come under fire in an ongoing corruption case investigating his daughter, Princess Cristina, who is facing charges of tax fraud and money laundering.
While the royal family seems hopeful that the younger, more popular Felipe will restore faith in the monarchy, many are wondering whether its outlived its usefulness.
Felipe, a former Olympic yachtsman who married TV journalist Letizia Ortiz in 2004, has a 66% approval rating, but that didn’t stop his wife’s own aunt from taking to Twitter and joining in the calls for a referendum. “#TheKingAbdicates #ReferendumNOW It’s time for citizens to speak. Sign and RT! +201 thousand and growing…” she tweeted Tuesday, linking to a petition calling for “a critical and constructive review process for our state model culminating in a referendum on the future of the monarchy in our country.”
— Cristóbal Gallardo (@crisgardobal) June 4, 2014
Protesters have gathered in more than 100 cities throughout Spain, waving the old Spanish Republican flag and chanting “Up with the Third Republic!” and “Referendum now!” United Left leader Cayo Lara said on Tuesday it was “unthinkable that in the 21st century we are still talking about blood rights.” The protests have now entered their second day, with activists tweeting photos of crowded public squares in cities like Madrid and Seville.
Parliament is set to approve Felipe’s succession on June 18th.