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No easy job for Spain's new king

Jun 3, 2014 - By Ana Lazaro Verde and Hubert Kahl, MCT News Service

The Spanish monarchy was for many years the country's most popular institution, but now only about one-third of Spaniards approve of it.

MADRID -- Spain's Crown Prince Felipe is set to take the throne, after his father's abdication becomes formal, with the tough task of restoring the legitimacy of the Spanish monarchy wafter troubled times.

built up that legitimacy as he led the country's transition to democracy following the death of dictator in November 1975. As head of state -- as Franco's designated successor -- moved to bring Spain's democratic forces together.

Juan Carlos did that well, and Spaniards largely acknowledged that his leadership was vital to the process. On Feb. 23, 1981, the country let out a sigh of relief when they heard him on television, following a failed military coup.

"The crown, a symbol of the homeland's permanence and union, can absolutely not tolerate the actions or attitudes of people who seek to interrupt by force the democratic process," Juan Carlos said at the time.

In this context, many experts have agreed that Spain -- a country with a long republican tradition alongside its monarchical institutions -- was for many years more "Juancarlista" than monarchical.

The latter years of Juan Carlos's rule, however, cast shadows over his record, with a in which his daughter Cristina was charged being the main reason for his loss of popularity.

In a country very hard hit by economic crisis, the long investigation of the case, in which a direct relative of the monarch was charged for the first time, became a nightmare for the Spanish royal family.

Cristina's husband, Inaki Urdangarin, allegedly embezzled about $8 million in public funds and faces long years in prison if convicted, with Princess Cristina allegedly playing a lesser role in the scheme.

has had his own particular share in the monarchy's troubles, however. There was a controversial elephant hunt in Botswana in 2012, for which he issued an unprecedented public apology. And his relationship with a friend, Corinna zu Sayn-Wittgenstein, cast doubts on his marital life that did the monarchy's image no good. In addition, the aging Juan Carlos has suffered from repeated health problems.

At a time when was surging and Spain struggled to keep its deficit under control, the Spanish people and the media were unforgiving over the perceived corruption and a life of luxury on the part of the monarchy.

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