MADRID — Lawmakers in Spain overwhelmingly approved an abdication law Wednesday that paves the way for Crown Prince Felipe to ascend to the throne being vacated by his father, King Juan Carlos.
But the parliamentary debate also highlighted the political and territorial tensions that await King Felipe VI, with Catalan lawmakers abstaining from the vote and instead calling on the new king-to-be to endorse their plan to hold a referendum on independence. The debate was also disrupted by a handful of left-wing parliamentarians, who waved signs demanding a referendum on whether to maintain Spain’s monarchy.
Speaking in Parliament, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy praised Juan Carlos for serving as the “skillful pilot of a transition filled with risks,” having come to the throne in 1975, two days after the death of the dictator General Francisco Franco. Almost four decades later, Felipe was taking over with the clear backing of Spanish society, Rajoy said.
“Never in the history of the past two centuries has a succession taken place with such normality as this one,” he said.
That claim, however, was immediately questioned by some lawmakers who addressed Parliament after Rajoy. Josep Antoni Duran i Lleida, parliamentary spokesman for Convergence and Union, the governing party in Catalonia, said that Catalans had recently been “excluded from the history of Spain” by the country’s mainstream parties, as well as by a king who refused to recognize Catalan demands for greater autonomy. Catalonia’s regional government is planning a November referendum on independence that Rajoy’s government has declared illegal and has vowed to prevent.
“I hope the new king will be sensitive to the demands of the Catalan citizenship,” Duran i Lleida said.
Thousands of protesters took to the streets of Spain last week after King Juan Carlos announced his abdication. In fact, 62 percent of Spaniards want a referendum on the monarchy, according to an opinion poll published last Sunday.
“Today’s debate is about whether we want to deepen Spain’s democracy or whether we want to continue with a system that is, at times, despotic,”Cayo Lara of the United Left party said Wednesday.