Prince Felipe battles to revive Spanish royal image

Fri Oct 11, 2013 9:51am EDT
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By Elisabeth O'Leary

MADRID (Reuters) - Crown Prince Felipe will take his ailing father's place saluting military officers at Spain's national day parade on Saturday as expectations rise he may soon take over the troubled throne.

King Juan Carlos, 75, is recovering from hip surgery, his fifth operation in two years, and will miss the annual parade for the first time.

Palace officials say he does not want to abdicate. But public pressure is mounting as his health and image deteriorate.

Prince Felipe, 45, faces an uphill battle to win back Spaniards, who have soured on royals and political leaders during an economic crisis aggravated by corruption scandals and a widening gap between rich and poor.

But his low-key style could make him the perfect man to lead the House of Bourbon back into favor.

Friendly but more discreet than his jovial father, the prince has not been tarnished by a scandal that engulfed his sister Princess Cristina. Nor has he been implicated in lapses of judgment at the palace, such as the king's African safari trip at the height of the economic crisis last year.

"The king is out of action for months and meanwhile the prince will be doing all the keynote things the king normally does. The prince will become more and more visible," said a royal historian who requested anonymity.

For most of his reign, Juan Carlos has been a hugely popular figure. He played a key part in Spain's transition to democracy in the 1970s after four decades of General Francisco Franco's fascist dictatorship.   Continued...

Spain's Princess Letizia and her husband, Spain's Crown Prince Felipe, walk away after she collected money donations for the Spanish Red Cross during "Fiesta de la Banderita" in Madrid October 3, 2013.REUTERS/Susana Vera