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Spain lawmakers pave way for future King Felipe VI

Spanish lawmakers overwhelmingly approved Wednesday the abdication of King Juan Carlos despite noisy anti-royalist protests, paving the way for the first royal succession in post-Franco Spain.

MADRID: Spanish lawmakers overwhelmingly approved Wednesday the abdication of King Juan Carlos despite noisy anti-royalist protests, paving the way for the first royal succession in post-Franco Spain.

Nine days after Juan Carlos called an end to a 39-year reign that guided Spain from dictatorship to democracy, lawmakers approved by a wide margin a law that would allow his son, the future Felipe VI, to inherit the scandal-tainted crown.

The bill was approved with 299 votes in favour, 19 against and 23 abstentions.

It was backed by the ruling conservative Popular Party, the main opposition Socialists and the small centrist UPyD party.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy opened the debate by defending the king and the monarchy, which he called "the best symbol of the unity of the state".

"Spain is a parliamentary monarchy with deep roots because Spaniards want it to be so," he added.

Once passed by the lower house, the succession will then have to be approved by the Senate, Spain's upper house of parliament, which will vote on the bill on June 17.

The 46-year-old Prince Felipe is expected to be sworn in by parliament on June 19.

The succession must be enshrined in law under Spain's 1978 constitution.

Juan Carlos, who walks with a cane after multiple hip operations, won widespread respect for defending Spain's democracy, notably appearing on television to thwart an attempted military coup in February 1981.

But a series of gaffes and scandals in the twilight of his reign caused his popularity to slump.

Many Spaniards were outraged that the king took a luxury elephant-hunting trip to Botswana in 2012 as they struggled to find jobs in a recession and the government teetered on the brink of a debt default.

Earlier this year, his younger daughter Cristina was named as a tax crime suspect in connection with her husband Inaki Urdangarin's allegedly corrupt business dealings.

His son Felipe, a former Olympic yachtsman married to glamorous former television news presenter Letizia with whom he has two daughters, eight-year-old Leonor and seven-year-old Sofia, enjoys greater popular support.

Tiny left-wing and regional parties, including the United Left coalition and the Catalan separatist Catalan Republic Left, voted against the law and have called for a referendum on the future of the monarchy.

All 11 United Left lawmakers stood up and held up black and white signs that read "Referendum Now" during the debate in parliament.

Many wore red, purple and yellow badges, the colours of the flag of Spain's second republic.

The United Left submitted an amendment to the abdication law which called for a referendum on the monarchy but lawmakers voted it down.

Rajoy has rejected calls for a referendum.

He argues that Spain's 1978 constitution, which established a parliamentary democracy with the king as a mostly ceremonial head of state, was supported by a great majority in a referendum at the time.

Within hours of the king's announcement on June 2 that he was abdicating, thousands of people massed in central Madrid and other cities to demand a referendum on the monarchy, which was only restored in Spain in 1975 after the death of General Francisco Franco.

A majority of Spaniards, 62 per cent, want a referendum on the future of the monarchy at some point, according to a Metroscopia poll published Sunday in top-selling centre-left newspaper El Pais.

If such a plebiscite were held, nearly one voter in two, or 49 per cent, would prefer to have a monarchy with Felipe as king while 36 per cent would support a republic, according to the poll.

A separate survey by Sigma Dos published by centre-right newspaper El Mundo on Monday found popular support for the monarchy has climbed since Juan Carlos announced his abdication.

Overall, almost 56 per cent said they wanted Spain to remain a monarchy, up from a historic low of almost 50 per cent when the same question was posed in January.

Support for the monarchy is weakest among younger Spaniards, who do not recall the king's role in steering Spain to democracy and who now bear the brunt of Spain's sky-high jobless rate.

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