MADRID (AFP) - Thousands of anti-royalists took to the streets across Spain calling for a vote on the monarchy's survival after the abdication of King Juan Carlos. Rather than hand over the throne to Crown Prince Felipe, to be known as King Felipe VI, protesters demanded a referendum on the very survival of the institution.
Late into the night after the king's abdication announcement on Monday, thousands of people filled Madrid's central Puerta del Sol square as rallies were called in major cities around the country. Protesters filled the square and police closed access to the royal palace just a short walk away from the demonstration.
"Tomorrow, Spain will be a republic!", chanted crowds of demonstrators brandishing placards reading: "No more kings, a referendum"; "A royal transition... without a king"; and "Bourbons up for election".
"I think now would be a good time to proclaim a republic," said Ms Paola Torija, a 24-year-old therapist for the disabled, following the king's abdication announcement. "He had his moment of glory but today it is a bit archaic, a bit useless, an extra cost especially in the crisis we are living in," she said.
Republican sentiment remains widespread in Spain, which only restored the monarchy in 1975 after the death of General Francisco Franco, who had ruled for four decades. Juan Carlos won widespread personal respect for his role in guiding post-Franco Spain to democracy, most famously appearing on national television to halt an attempted military coup in February 1981.
But many Spaniards were angered when they discovered the king took a luxury African elephant-hunting safari in 2012 while they suffered at home from a crisis that left one in four people unemployed. Resentment grew as the king's elder daughter Cristina was formally named a suspect in a judicial investigation into her husband Inaki Urdangarin's allegedly corrupt business practices.
In a study by pollster Sigma Dos published in January 2014, support for the king fell to 41 per cent while those wanting him to abdicate in favour of Felipe surged to 62 per cent. Most worryingly for royalists, the same survey found only 49 per cent approved of the monarchy itself. Three small leftist parties - Podemos, United Left and the Equo green party which together won 20 per cent of the vote in May 25 elections for seats in the European Parliament - called for a referendum on the monarchy.
"I am here because I want to elect my head of state," said 25-year-old Complutense University sociology student Daniel Martin.
King Juan Carlos earned his role as king by leading the nation through the transition from dictatorship to democracy, Mr Martin said. "For that, he was useful," he said. "But not afterwards.' The future King Felipe VI is likely to face public disquiet over the state of the economy and the royal family's scandals, including the corruption probe into his brother-in-law Urdangarin, said journalist Jose Apezarena, who has written several books about the royals.
"It is a very difficult moment to come to the throne. We have a country that is in an economic crisis and the Urdangarin case has not yet been resolved," he said. "I think it would have been more logical to wait until the case was resolved before proceeding to the succession. The Urdangarin case is from now on going to wear down Felipe, not Juan Carlos," he predicted.