Spain's Senate votes on future King Felipe VI

Spain's Senate votes on future King Felipe VI
Spanish Crown Prince Felipe

MADRID - Spain's senators vote Tuesday to clear the future King Felipe VI's path to the scandal-hit throne in the first royal succession of the post-Franco era.

Lawmakers in the upper house are set overwhelmingly to approve the handover of the crown to the blue-eyed 46-year-old former Olympic yachtsman, who stands nearly two metres (six feet six inches) tall.

At the head of a new generation of royals, and with his glamorous wife Letizia, 41, a former television presenter, on his arm, the new monarch is riding high in the polls but faces a formidable task ahead.

As king, Felipe must restore the image of the monarchy after his father's reign became bogged down in scandal; inspire a people suffering from a 26-per cent unemployment rate; and try to unite the nation even as the northeastern region of Catalonia seeks an independence referendum this November.

The Senate vote, predicted by Spanish media to be 89-per cent in favour of succession, is being held eight days after the lower house of parliament gave its agreement, also by a wide margin.

It is one of the last parliamentary acts before Spain says farewell to the 76-year-old King Juan Carlos and his wife Queen Sofia, who guided the country from dictatorship to democracy in a nearly 39-year reign.

The outgoing king hosts the last official lunch of his reign on Tuesday for senior figures of state including Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy.

On Wednesday, Juan Carlos will sign the act of parliament formalising his abdication.

The new King Felipe VI then begins his reign at the stroke of midnight on Wednesday, the moment his father's abdication becomes legally effective.

Felipe will be sworn in before both houses of parliament on Thursday morning.

In celebration, the new king and the queen - whose dress for the ceremony remains a closely guarded secret - will be driven through the broad avenues of central Madrid.

A fresh start 

The royal couple, who have two blonde-haired daughters - eight-year-old Leonor, who will be the youngest direct royal heir to the throne in Europe, and seven-year-old Sofia - will also appear before the crowds on the front balcony of the Spanish capital's old Royal Palace.

Spain has deployed 7,000 police for the ceremonies but no foreign dignitaries have been invited, in keeping with the hard economic times in Spain. The country emerged gingerly in mid-2013 from five years of stop-start recession but still suffers financial hardship and high unemployment.

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