Spanish young cool to monarchy as Felipe arrives

4th June 2014, Comments 0 comments

Spain's future King Felipe VI will ascend the throne hoping to revive the scandal-hit monarchy but many young Spaniards would prefer to scrap it altogether.

Born after the death of dictator General Francisco Franco in 1975, they have little memory of the pivotal role King Juan Carlos played in Spain's transition to democracy.

They are more critical of the institution than their parents.

"The monarchy has nothing to do with the young, nothing to do with the present time. It makes no sense and only generates expenses," said Bettina Farjado, an unemployed 32-year-old, as she left a job centre in central Madrid.

Juan Carlos, 76, announced Monday that he will hand over the crown to his more popular son Felipe, 46, saying he wanted to pass the baton to "a younger generation" after several turbulent years in Spain.

The king was widely respected for smoothing Spain's transition to democracy after Franco's death, most famously appearing on national television to halt an attempted military coup in February 1981.

But gaffes and a corruption scandal centred on his younger daughter Princess Cristina and her husband Inaki Urdangarin later slashed his popularity.

Many Spaniards were outraged when they discovered the king took a luxury elephant-hunting trip to Botswana in 2012 shortly after saying he lost sleep over Spain's high rate of youth unemployment.

Spain's unemployment rate stands at nearly 26 percent for the general population -- and among those aged 16 to 24 it exceeds 50 percent.

"We should ask people what they want because I think the majority would prefer a republic after everything that the Crown has done," said Aida Martin, a 20-year-old student who was distributing her CV in the centre of the Spanish capital in a search for a summer job.

Just under half of all Spaniards backed the monarchy, an historical low, in a poll published in January in centre-left daily newspaper El Mundo.

And a majority of Spaniards under the age of 35 consider themselves to be republican, according to another poll published in May in top-selling centre-left newspaper El Pais.

Within hours of the king's abdication announcement, crowds of mainly young people shouting and waving the red, yellow and purple Spanish republican flag massed in central Madrid, demanding a referendum on the monarchy.

- 'Somewhat obsolete' -

Given this context, El Mundo warned Tuesday that restoring the prestige of the monarchy "is not an easy task".

"Especially when the majority of youths consider this institution to be somewhat obsolete and disconnected from the world and where they achieve high levels of responsibility through meritocracy," it added in an editorial.

Many young Spaniards said Felipe, 46, should earn his place.

"Felipe is well prepared to do what he has to do," said Julian Lazaro, 23, as he made his way to class at the pharmacy faculty at Madrid's Complutense University.

"I am not for or against him but I just think that people should be able to decide. And if we choose to be a republic and want to elect Felipe president, I think that would be fine."

But with Spain mired in economic hardship and facing independence stirrings in Catalonia and the Basque Country, others stressed the importance of "stability".

King Juan Carlos was "apolitical" and played a key role in promoting trade and investment, said Alejandro Gonzalez, a 28-year-old construction sector worker.

Gonzalez said he often travels for work to the Gulf where the king is known to have close ties with the region's monarchies.

"The king is an essential figure in the Middle East, he opens doors," Gonzalez said at the entrance to his Madrid office building.

Rocio Roca, a 21-year-old advertising student at Madrid's private CEU San Pablo University, said she could not see a referendum on the monarchy taking place in the near future.

"But in a democracy we should be able to choose our head of state," she said as she revised her notes before sitting for an exam.

"I know very well that Felipe will reign, but I hope it will not be for long," she said.


© 2014 AFP

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