Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy called a surprise press conference on Monday morning to announce that King Juan Carlos has decided to abdicate in favor of his son Felipe.
The 76-year-old monarch will appear later on Monday to personally explain his decision, said Rajoy in a brief address.
“I have found the king convinced that this is the best moment for a change in the leadership of state with complete normalcy,” said Rajoy in a historical statement that had created great expectation in the media.
Juan Carlos’ son, who is 46, will reign as Felipe VI.
“Felipe’s training, character and broad experience are a solid guarantee that his work will live up to the highest expectations,” added Rajoy.
There had been some speculation in recent months over the possibility of an abdication, given Juan Carlos’ poor health and declining popularity ratings following a controversial hunting expedition in Botswana, among a series of other royal gaffes.
Felipe had been increasingly filling in for his father at official ceremonies abroad, such as the swearing-in of numerous Latin American dignitaries.
Juan Carlos will be remembered as a rallying figure who brought Spaniards together during the transitional period from Franco’s dictatorship to a new democracy.
The history books particularly underscore his role in the coup attempt of February 23, 1981, which he helped defuse by refusing to support the Civil Guard plotters.
“For 39 years he was the best symbol of our peaceful coexistence. His figure is so closely linked to democracy that one cannot be understood without the other,” said Rajoy. “He was Spain’s best spokesman and its best image in every corner of the planet. We will never be able to pay back our debt of gratitude to him.”