Gaffes take toll on King Juan Carlos’s popularity

King Juan Carlos is thought to be out of touch with his people. Picture: Getty
King Juan Carlos is thought to be out of touch with his people. Picture: Getty
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Public opinion in Spain has turned against King Juan Carlos in favour of his son Felipe, an opinion poll showed yesterday, revealing the toll taken on the king by gaffes, friendships with young women and royal family corruption allegations.

The survey for El Pais newspaper showed 53 per cent disapproved of the 75-year-old king, giving him an overall approval-versus-disapproval rating of -11, compared to +21 in December.

Prince Felipe’s rating also fell but remained broadly favourable at +28, compared to +37 in December.

Juan Carlos’s jet-set lifestyle and close friendships with young women, as well as a corruption investigation centred on his son-in-law Inaki Urdangarin, have left weary Spaniards fed up with their royal family.

The poll was carried out before Princess Cristina, Mr Urdangarin’s wife, was charged last Wednesday with helping her husband in crimes that include fraud, tax evasion and embezzling €6 million from a charity.

By contrast, Felipe, 45, has not been touched by any of the royal family’s scandals, and has benefited from an image as an active promoter of Spain.

The king led the country’s transition to democracy in the 1970s and won huge popular support after defusing an attempted coup in 1981, but has increasingly appeared out of touch in a country with 26 per cent unemployment.

The Metroscopia poll, which asked 2,400 people how they rated certain institutions, was carried out last month.

“We can see from the poll that the king has particularly lost support among socialist voters and young people,” El Pais said.

Those aged 18 to 34 gave the king a rating of -41.

The poll also showed general dissatisfaction with political institutions, with only 19 per cent of those surveyed approving of the government and 93 per cent disapproving of politicians.

For decades King Juan Carlos was largely admired for having shepherded Spain from a military dictatorship under Gen. Francisco Franco to a modern democracy.

The monarchy’s fortunes began a sharp decline last year when it was revealed that the 75-year-old king broke his hip while on an unannounced luxurious African safari to hunt elephants at a time when ordinary Spaniards were suffering a recession, sky-high unemployment and government-imposed austerity measures.

The king has appeared frail in recent months and in March he had spinal surgery – his fourth operation in a year. 
Last week Princess Cristina was ordered to testify at a court on the island of Mallorca later this month by Judge Jose Castro who is investigating suspected fraud by Urdangarin.

The court summons is a first for a member of the king’s immediate family.

The investigation centres on whether the 47-year-old princess’ husband and his former business partner took advantage of their royal connections to funnel about €5 million in public funds via the nonprofit Noos Institute they ran into private businesses they also controlled.

Urdangarin is a former professional handball player and an Olympic medallist.

The royal family last year sidelined Urdangarin from all official royal activities, and has removed him from the family website.