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Constitutional monarchy

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Constitutional monarchy (or limited monarchy) is a form of government in which a monarch acts as head of state within the parameters of a constitution, whether it be a written, uncodified or blended constitution. This form of government differs from absolute monarchy in that an absolute monarch serves as the sole source of political power in the state and is not legally bound by any constitution.

Most constitutional monarchies employ a parliamentary system in which the monarch may have strictly ceremonial duties or may have reserve powers, depending on the constitution. Under most modern constitutional monarchies there is also a prime minister who is the head of government and exercises effective political power.

In the past, constitutional monarchy has co-existed with fascist and quasi-fascist regimes – such as Fascist Italy and Francoist Spain – and with military dictatorships. However on other occasions constitutional monarchs have played a crucial role in thwarting coups d'état and the overthrow of democratic institutions by fascist or communist movements. Examples include the attempted 23-F coup in Spain in 1981, and the 1981 and 1985 coup attempts in Thailand. In both cases action taken by the king proved decisive.

Contemporary constitutional monarchies include Australia, The Bahamas, Barbados, Belgium, Belize, Bhutan, Bahrain, Cambodia, Canada, Denmark, Grenada, Jamaica, Japan, Jordan, Liechtenstein, Lesotho, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Monaco, Morocco, New Zealand, the Netherlands, Norway, Papua New Guinea, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Solomon Islands, Spain, Sweden, Thailand, Tuvalu, and the United Kingdom.

There also exist today several federal constitutional monarchies. In these countries, each subdivision has a distinct government and head of government, but all subdivisions share a monarch who is head of state of the federation as a united whole. The latest country that was completely transformed from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional democratic monarchy is Bhutan.

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[edit] Constitutional and absolute monarchy

[edit] Constitutional monarchy in the European tradition

In Britain, the Glorious Revolution of 1688 led to a constitutional monarchy restricted by laws such as the Bill of Rights 1689 and the Act of Settlement 1701, although limits on the power of the monarch ('A Limited Monarchy') are much older than that (see Magna Carta). Today the monarchy in Britain is politically neutral and by convention the role is largely ceremonial.[1] No person may accept significant public office without swearing an oath of allegiance to the Queen.[2]

Constitutional monarchy occurred in continental Europe after the French revolution. Napoleon Bonaparte is considered the first monarch proclaiming himself as an embodiment of the nation, rather than as a divinely-appointed ruler; this interpretation of monarchy is germane to continental constitutional monarchies. G.W.F. Hegel, in his Philosophy of Right (1820), gave it a philosophical justification that concurred with evolving contemporary political theory and the Protestant Christian view of natural law. Hegel's forecast of a constitutional monarch with very limited powers whose function is to embody the national character and provide constitutional continuity in times of emergency was reflected in the development of constitutional monarchies in Europe and Japan. His forecast of the form of government suitable to the modern world may be seen as prophetic: the largely ceremonial offices of president in some modern parliamentary democracies in Europe and e.g. Israel can be perceived as elected or appointed versions of Hegel's constitutional monarch; the Russian and French presidents, with their stronger powers, may also be regarded in Hegelian terms as wielding powers suitable to the embodiment of the national will.

[edit] Modern constitutional monarchy

As originally conceived, a constitutional monarch was quite a powerful figure, head of the executive branch even though his or her power was limited by the constitution and the elected parliament. Some of the framers of the US Constitution may have conceived of the president as being an elected constitutional monarch, as the term was understood in their time, following Montesquieu's account of the separation of powers.[3]

The present concept of constitutional monarchy developed in the United Kingdom, where it was the democratically elected parliaments, and their leader, the prime minister, who had become those who exercised power, with the monarchs voluntarily ceding it and contenting themselves with the titular position. In many cases even the monarchs themselves, while still at the very top of the political and social hierarchy, were given the status of "servants of the people" to reflect the new, egalitarian view. In the course of France's July Monarchy, Louis-Philippe I was styled "King of the French" rather than "King of France".

Following the Unification of Germany, Otto von Bismarck rejected the British model. In the kind of constitutional monarchy established under the Constitution of the German Empire which Bismarck inspired, the Kaiser retained considerable actual executive power, and the Prime Minister needed no parliamentary vote of confidence and ruled solely by the imperial mandate. However, this model of constitutional monarchy was discredited and abolished following Germany's defeat in the First World War. Later on, Fascist Italy could also be considered as a "constitutional monarchy" of a kind, in the sense that there was a king as the titular head of state while actual power was held by Benito Mussolini under a constitution. This eventually discredited the Italian monarchy and led to its abolition in 1946. After the Second World War, surviving European monarchies almost invariably adopted some variant of the constitutional monarchy model originally developed in Britain.

In present terms, the difference between a parliamentary democracy that is a constitutional monarchy and one that is a republic is considered more one of detail than of substance. In both cases, the titular head of state - monarch or president - serves the traditional role of embodying and representing the nation, while the actual governing is carried out by a cabniet composed predominantly of elected Members of Parliament. In some cases, constitutional monarchies have been dubbed "crowned republics".[4]

Today constitutional monarchies are mostly associated with Western European countries such as the United Kingdom, Netherlands, Belgium, Norway, Denmark, Spain, Luxembourg, Monaco, Liechtenstein, and Sweden. However, the two most populous constitutional monarchies in the world are in Asia: Japan and Thailand. In such cases it is the prime minister who holds the day-to-day powers of governance, while the King or Queen (or other monarch, such as a Grand Duke, in the case of Luxembourg, or Prince in the case of Monaco and Liechtenstein) retains only residual (but not always minor) powers. The powers of the monarch differ between countries. In the Netherlands, Denmark and in Belgium, for example, the Monarch formally appoints a representative to preside over the creation of a coalition government following a parliamentary election, while in Norway the King chairs special meetings of the cabinet.

In nearly all cases, the monarch is still the nominal chief executive, but is bound by constitutional convention to act on the advice of the Cabinet. Only a few monarchies (most notably Japan and Sweden) have amended their constitutions so that the monarch is no longer even the nominal chief executive.

The most significant family of constitutional monarchies in the world today are the sixteen Commonwealth realms under Elizabeth II.[5] Unlike some of their continental European counterparts, the Monarch and her Governors-General in the Commonwealth realms hold significant "reserve" or "prerogative" powers, to be wielded in times of extreme emergency or constitutional crises usually to uphold parliamentary government. An instance of a Governor General exercising his power was during the 1975 Australian constitutional crisis, when the Australian Prime Minister of the time, Gough Whitlam, was dismissed by the Governor-General. The Australian senate had threatened to block the Government's budget by refusing to pass the associated appropriation bills. On 11 November 1975, Whitlam intended to call a half-Senate election in an attempt to break the deadlock. When he went to seek the Governor-General's approval of the election, the Governor-General instead dismissed him as Prime Minister, and shortly thereafter installed leader of the opposition Malcolm Fraser in his place. Acting quickly before all parliamentarians became aware of the change of government, Fraser and his allies were able to secure passage of the appropriation bills, and the Governor-General dissolved Parliament for a double dissolution election. Fraser and his government were returned with a massive majority. This led to much speculation among Whitlam's supporters as to whether this use of the Governor-General's reserve powers was appropriate, and whether Australia should become a republic. Among supporters of constitutional monarchy however, the experience confirmed the value of the monarchy as a source of checks and balances against elected politicians who might seek powers in excess of those conferred by their respective constitutions, and ultimately as a safeguard against dictatorship.

In Thailand's constitutional monarchy, the monarch is recognized as the Head of State, Head of the Armed Forces, Upholder of the Buddhist Religion, and Defender of the Faith. The current King, Bhumibol Adulyadej, is the longest reigning current monarch in the world and in all of Thailand's history.[6] Bhumibol has reigned through several political changes in the Thai government. He has played an influential role in each incident, often acting as mediator between disputing political opponents. (See Bhumibol's role in Thai Politics.) While the monarch retains some powers from the constitution, most particular is Lèse majesté which protects the image and ability of the monarch to play a role in politics and carries modest criminal penalties for violators. Generally, the Thai people are reverent of Bhumibol. Much of his social influence comes from that and the fact that the royal family is often involved in socio-economic improvement efforts.

In both the United Kingdom and elsewhere, a common debate centres around when it is appropriate for a monarch to use his or her political powers. When a monarch does act, political controversy can often ensue, partially because the neutrality of the crown is seen to be compromised in favour of a partisan goal, while some political scientists champion the idea of an "interventionist monarch" as a check against possible illegal action by politicians.

[edit] List of current reigning monarchies

The following is a list of reigning monarchies. Except where noted, monarch selection is hereditary as directed by the state's constitution.

State Last constitution established Type of monarchy Monarch selection
 Antigua and Barbuda 1981 Kingdom
 Andorra 1993 Co-Principality Selection of Bishop of La Seu d'Urgell and election of French President
 Australia 1901 Kingdom
 The Bahamas 1973 Kingdom
 Barbados 1966 Kingdom
 Bahrain 2002 Kingdom
 Belgium 1831 Kingdom; popular monarchy[7]
 Belize 1981 Kingdom
 Bhutan 2007 Kingdom Hereditary succession
 Cambodia 1993 Kingdom Chosen by throne council
 Canada 1867 (Patriated 1982) Kingdom
 Denmark 1953 Kingdom
 Grenada 1974 Kingdom
 Jamaica 1962 Kingdom
 Japan 1946 Empire
 Jordan 1952 Kingdom
 Kuwait 1962 Emirate Hereditary succession, with directed approval of the House of Al-Sabah and majority of National Assembly
 Lesotho 1993 Kingdom Hereditary succession directed approval of College of Chiefs[citation needed]
 Liechtenstein 1862 Principality
 Luxembourg 1868 Grand duchy
 Malaysia 1957 Elective monarchy; Federal monarchy Selected from nine hereditary Sultans of the Malay states
 Monaco 1911 Principality
 Morocco 1666 Kingdom
 Netherlands 1815 Kingdom
 Norway 1814 Kingdom
 New Zealand 1907 Kingdom
 Papua New Guinea 1975 Kingdom
 Saint Kitts and Nevis 1983 Kingdom
 Saint Lucia 1979 Kingdom
 Saint Vincent and the Grenadines 1979 Kingdom
 Solomon Islands 1978 Kingdom
 Spain 1978 Kingdom
 Swaziland 1968 Kingdom; Mixture of absolute and constitutional monarchy Hereditary succession
 Sweden 1974 Kingdom
 Thailand 2007 Kingdom
 Tonga 1970 Kingdom
 Tuvalu 1978 Kingdom
 United Arab Emirates 1971 Federal Union of Emirate
Elective monarchy
President elected by the seven absolute monarchs constituting the Federal Supreme Council
 United Kingdom 1688 Kingdom

[edit] Former monarchies

[edit] Other situations

[edit] See also

[edit] Notes

  1. ^ "What is constitutional monarchy?". Official website of the British Monarchy. http://www.royal.gov.uk/MonarchUK/HowtheMonarchyworks/Whatisconstitutionalmonarchy.aspx. Retrieved 11 March 2010. 
  2. ^ RESEARCH PAPER 01/116
  3. ^ Baron de Montesquieu, The Spirit of Laws. Legal Classics Library, 1924.
  4. ^ Boyce, Peter (2008). The Queen's Other Realms. Annandale: Federation Press. p. 1. ISBN 9781862877009. http://books.google.ca/books?id=kY-Tk0-quyoC&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false. 
  5. ^ "Website of the British Monarchy: What is a Commonwealth realm?". http://www.royal.gov.uk/MonarchAndCommonwealth/QueenandCommonwealth/WhatisaCommonwealthRealm.aspx. Retrieved 19 September 2010. 
  6. ^ "A Royal Occasion speeches". Worldhop.com Journal. 1996. http://www.worldhop.com/Journals/J5/ROYAL.HTM. Retrieved 2006-07-05. 
  7. ^ Belgium is the only existing popular monarchy — a system in which the monarch's title is linked to the people rather than a state. The title of Belgian kings is not King of Belgium, but instead King of the Belgians. Another unique feature of the Belgian system is that the new monarch does not automatically assume the throne at the death or abdication of his predecessor; he only becomes monarch upon taking a constitutional oath.

[edit] References

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