As Spain's King Steps Down, Protesters Hope He's The Last One
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
From NPR News this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
And I'm Audie Cornish. The King of Spain made a surprise announcement today - he is handing off the throne. The King says he will abdicate in favor of his son and in response the streets of Madrid filled with protesters. They want a vote on their monarchy. Should the king be allowed to hand the crown to his son or should the monarchy be abolished altogether? Lauren Frayer reports from Spain.
(SOUNDBITE OF PROTESTERS CHANTING)
LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: Spaniards are streaming down cobblestone streets here into the center of Madrid and dozens of other cities, demanding a public vote on whether Spain should keep its monarchy now that King Juan Carlos is stepping down.
EMILIO CANADA: Spanish people should vote. Do we want, in our referendum, monarchy - corrupted monarchy - or do we want republic? That's as simple as that. We need the right to vote and we don't have it.
FRAYER: Emilio Canada is among the majority of Spaniards, polls show, who wanted to the king to abdicate. The 76-year-old monarch announced intention to do so in a surprise video statement on state television.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
KING JUAN CARLOS: (Spanish spoken).
FRAYER: A younger generation will have the energy and determination to make reforms, the king said, I've always wanted the best for Spain to which I've dedicated my entire life.
Juan Carlos is the only king Spaniards today have ever known. Spain had a military dictator, Francisco Franco, until 1975. And even though Franco had groomed Juan Carlos to take over as a fascist leader, the new king instead presided over a transition to democracy. Then in 1981, he really won Spaniards' hearts. Paramilitary police tried to take over parliament and launch a military coup. The king convinced them to stand down and democracy survived. It was the defining moment of his 39-year reign says Bieito Rubido, editor of the monarchist ABC newspaper.
BIEITO RUBIDO: (Spanish spoken).
FRAYER: Franco gave the king extraordinary powers as his successor before there was even a constitution, but Juan Carlos used that power to create a democracy instead, he says. Then the king intervened to stop the coup, insisting again on democracy.
So Spaniards credit him with the peace and progress we've seen since then, but that was 33 years ago. Memories fade and so has the king's popularity. His daughter, Infanta Cristina, is accused of tax fraud and corruption. King Juan Carlos himself sparked public outrage two years ago for going elephant hunting in Africa at a time of deep economic crisis and 25 percent unemployment back home.
The king said today that Spain's economic crisis underscores the need to correct mistakes and look to the future. Some opposition leaders are calling for a future without a king, but the conservative Spanish government is moving quickly. It's holding an emergency cabinet meeting Tuesday to lay out constitutional changes that would allow Crown Prince Felipe to become the next King of Spain within days or weeks. For NPR News, I'm Lauren Frayer in Madrid.