Public disenchantment with Spain’s rulers deepened at the weekend when it emerged that King Juan Carlos was hunting elephants in Botswana weeks after saying he could not sleep because of youth unemployment in an increasingly grave economic crisis.
Support for Mariano Rajoy, the embattled Popular party prime minister, has meanwhile fallen sharply since his government took power in December, according to an opinion poll published on Sunday.
Only 33 percent thought it did know, and 11 percent were undecided or did not reply.
The king’s expensive elephant safari had been kept secret and came to light only because he broke his hip in an early morning fall on the way to the toilet and was flown home by private jet from southern Africa for an operation.
Reaction in Spain, which has endured more than three years of financial and economic crisis since the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008, was almost uniformly critical of King Juan Carlos, even among right-wingers.
“As far as we can tell, it was an irresponsible journey undertaken at the most inopportune moment,” the conservative newspaper El Mundo said in a blistering editorial. “The spectacle of the monarch hunting elephants in Africa sets a bad example when the economic crisis in our country is causing so many problems for Spaniards, including some dramatic situations for families. It transmits an image of indifference and frivolity that a head of state ought never to give.”
King Juan Carlos is still admired for having helped engineer Spain’s transition from dictatorship to democracy after the death of Franco in 1975.
But the royal family’s standing has been damaged recently by scandals and accidents.
Iñaki Urdangarin, the king’s son-in-law, has been charged with misuse of public funds in a corruption case, while Felipe Juan Froilán, his 13-year-old grandson, injured his foot in a shotgun accident a week ago.
Cayo Lara of the Communist-led United Left (IU) party - which has become increasingly popular among voters at the expense of the governing PP and the Socialist party – accused the king of “a lack of ethics and respect for many people in this country who are suffering a lot”.
The Metroscopia poll showed support for the PP among Spaniards had fallen by more than eight percentage points in the past month from 46.3 to 38.1 per cent.
Backing for the Socialists also fell slightly from 24.4 to 23 percent, while the IU saw its share of support climb from 9.1 to 11.6 percent.
Mr Rajoy on Saturday summoned PP leaders, including those who control 11 of the country’s 17 autonomous regions, to ensure their support for a nationwide austerity program.
Nervous bond market investors and some European officials believe Spain may require a bailout like those for Greece, Ireland and Portugal because of the need to recapitalize weak banks and the failure by successive central governments to control regional and municipal budgets.