MALAGA, Spain (USATODAY.com) — Spain's King Juan Carlos unexpectedly stepped down Monday in favor of his son Crown Prince Felipe, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy announced.
The abdication 39 years after Carlos ascended to the throne comes as corruption scandals have dogged the royal family. The prime minister delivered the news to the nation in a television broadcast.
Some Spaniards expressed surprise at the announcement while others said they had been waiting for it.
"This is part of an expected chronology (of events)," said Alberto Garzon, a lawmaker in the Spanish parliament and author of the book, The Third Republic— about a future Spain without a monarchy.
Carlos, 76, came to power immediately after the death of Spain's notorious dictator Francisco Franco.
He has enjoyed high popularity for decades but in the past few years his approval ratings fell sharply after a series of personal blunders. He took an expensive African safari during the height of the euro crisis. His daughter, Princess Cristina, has been indicted for embezzlement and her husband stands accused of tax evasion and money laundering.
While other European monarchs have come under scrutiny for the excessive spending, including the British royal family, none have so far come under pressure to abdicate. The Spanish king's relinquishing of power in favor of Felipe, 46, drew no immediate response from royal families across Europe.
However, his departure comes during a period of upheaval for Spanish politics. The results of the May 25 European Parliament elections left Spain's two major political parties battered. Smaller parties won seats for the first time. More than 2.9 million Spaniards voted for political parties expressly in favor of eliminating the Spanish monarchy.
"(Both big parties) are afraid of those results as they are the only parties in parliament that are truly in favor of the monarchy," said Garzon, the author. "They didn't even get 20% of the total population and they see the writing on the wall."
Rajoy said the king was relinquishing the throne for person reasons. "His majesty, the King has just communicated to me his will to give up the throne," Spain's PM said. "I'm convinced this is the best moment for change."