What next for the beleaguered Spanish royals after princess Cristina corruption case?

Support for the monarchy is waning with each new scandal

The new year is not going well for the Spanish royal family. Yesterday’s announcement that princess Cristina has been named as a suspect in a corruption case was deeply distressing for the family, but not entirely unexpected.

Yet it came a day after what was perhaps a more shocking display of the monarchy’s current vulnerability.

On Monday, king Juan Carlos made a public appearance at a military ceremony in Madrid, his first outside the royal palace since having a hip operation last November.

Health question
The royal household had hoped the king's presence would quieten those who have been questioning his health and, by extension, his ability to continue as head of state.

But the frail-looking monarch arrived on crutches and while reading a short speech stumbled over his words several times. He looked a shadow of his former, energetic self.

Until recently, there would probably have been a reverential near-silence on the matter from the media. But respect for the royals has been eroded in recent years, as was made apparent by Público newspaper's headline: "The king offers an image of senility on his return to public life."

There had already been bad news on Sunday, Juan Carlos's 76th birthday, when El Mundo newspaper published a poll showing that 62 per cent of Spaniards wanted him to abdicate and make way for crown prince Felipe. For the first time, less than 50 per cent of people support the monarchy as a democratic system.

Juan Carlos was crowned in 1975, on the death of his mentor, the dictator Francisco Franco. He won over many Spaniards by defying the dictator's wishes and playing a key role in ushering in a modern democracy. His firmness in facing down a coup by right-wing extremists in 1981 cemented his credibility.

But fewer and fewer Spaniards are of an age to remember those deeds today and they are swayed by more recent events.

Much of the decline in the royalty's popularity has taken place over the past two years or so, since details of the investigation into the king's son-in-law, Iñaki Urdangarin, have become public.

Hunting elephants
The mounting allegations of Urdangarin's abuse of a privileged position have come at a time when one in four Spaniards is out of work.

The implication of the king’s daughter, princess Cristina, in the case brings the opprobrium closer to home. However, Juan Carlos also shoulders much of the blame for the monarchy’s declining popularity, especially after it emerged in April 2012 that he had broken his hip while on an elephant-hunting holiday in Botswana.

The lavish trip was not funded by the taxpayer but it was heavily criticised at a time when the economy was at a low ebb and it represented a crass miscalculation by a king once known for his common touch.

The Botswana mishap unleashed a stream of media stories about the king's private life, particularly his relationship with German businesswoman Corrina zu Sayn-
Wittgenstein who was with him on the holiday.

Besides his acumen, Juan Carlos’s health is the other question mark over his future and November’s operation was his sixth in two years.

With prince Felipe (45) cutting a dashing figure and managing to avoid the scandals that have hurt his father and sister, he looks an increasingly credible future Spanish king.

In a recent television interview, the head of the royal household, Rafael Spottorno, denied that the last few months had been an "annus horribilis" for the king, although he did describe the corruption allegations surrounding the monarchy as a "torment".