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Elective monarchy

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An elective monarchy is a monarchy ruled by an elected rather than hereditary monarch. The manner of election, the nature of the candidacy and the electors vary from case to case. Historically it is not uncommon, however, for elective monarchies to transform into hereditary ones after some centuries.


Evolution of elective monarchies

Arguably the world's oldest method to determine succession was for a military leader to ascend to power through some sort of election. As the kingdoms grew larger and the societies became less egalitarian, the right to vote was restricted to an ever smaller portion of the population (for example local chieftains and/or the nobility).

Many, if not most, kingdoms were officially elective historically, though the candidates were typically only from the family of the deceased monarch. Eventually, however, most elected monarchies introduced hereditary succession, guaranteeing that the title and office stayed within the royal family and specifying, more or less precisely, the order of succession. Hereditary systems probably came into being in order to ensure greater stability and continuity, since the election and the period of interregnum associated with it had often been an opportunity for several ambitious and powerful candidates to "try their chances" in the struggle for the throne, frequently resorting to violent means. In fact, the problem of interregna is typical for monarchy in general, and has only been ameliorated (with a varying degree of success) by the new principle of succession.

Today, almost all monarchies are hereditary monarchies in which the monarchs come from one royal family with the office of sovereign being passed from one family member to another upon the death or abdication of the incumbent.

Female rulers have almost never succeeded in an elective monarchy, while hereditary monarchy seems to have given females more opportunities.

Historical examples

In the ancient Kingdom of Rome, the kings were elected by the Assemblies. Once the Roman kings were overthrown, there remained an absolute prohibition for royal establishment in the Roman constitution, a prohibition which formally remained in place during imperial times, both Roman and Byzantine, although in practice the empire was an absolute monarchy. Therefore the office of Roman and Byzantine emperor remained vaguely elective (albeit with the election procedure never strictly defined, but generally understood to be a matter for the Senate) and heredity never was, and could never be, formally established in law. In order to bypass this prohibition and ensure dynastic continuity, many reigning Byzantine emperors had their heirs crowned co-emperor so that the throne could not be considered vacant at their own death and thus the need for succession by election would not arise.

The ancient Korean kingdom of Silla elected its first king by a conference of tribal and village elders in 57 BC; later, the monarchy of Silla became hereditary in nature.

The Holy Roman Empire is perhaps the best-known example of a pseudo-elective monarchy[1]; after the 15th century, the emperor was elected by a small council of nobles called prince-electors from within the Hapsburg family. Most of the electoral seats were hereditary (some were held by clerics, so-called archbishop-electors). Archbishop-electors and other prince-(arch)bishops were bishops, who were usually elected by the cathedral chapters as religious leaders, but simultaneously ruled as monarch (prince) a territory of imperial immediacy, which usually comprised a part of their diocesan territory. Thus the prince-bishoprics were elective monarchies too.

A system of elective monarchy existed in Anglo-Saxon England (see Witenagemot), the Kingdom of Hawaii, Visigothic Spain, and medieval Scandinavia and in the Principality of Transylvania. Medieval France was an elective monarchy at the time of the first Capetian kings; the kings however took the habit of, during their reign, having their son elected as successor. The election soon became a mere formality and vanished after the reign of Philip II of France.

In Africa, the Mali Empire functioned as both a constitutional and elective monarchy. The mansa (emperor) had to be approved by the Gbara or Great Assembly despite hereditary claims. The Kingdom of Kongo was a purer example of an elective monarchy, where blood claims had even less pull. Nobles elected a king's successor, and it was not uncommon for the successor to not be of the same family as his predecessor. This form of elective monarchy existed in the kingdom from its inception in around 1400 until its complete disintegration in the early 20th century.

In the Mongol Empire, the Great Khan was chosen by the Kurultai.

In medieval Serbia a strong level of collective parliamentarism was being evolved, which elected the Prince. The rulers often in respect to tradition remained a member of the dynasty, even more so with the recognition as a Kingdom in 1077 and the title's restoration after loss in 1217 which strengthened the Monarch's authority, however they were elected all the way until even the Imperial period. It was only in the Byzantine-modelled later Serbian Despotate that the monarchy was de facto transferred into a hereditary monarchy.

The Republic at the Zenith of Its Power. Golden Liberty. The Royal Election of 1573, by Jan Matejko

In Poland, after the death of the last Piast in 1370, Polish kings were initially elected by a small council; gradually, this privilege was granted to all members of the szlachta (Polish nobility). Kings of Poland and Grand Princes of Lithuania during the times of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (1569–1795) were elected by gatherings of crowds of nobles at a field in Wola, today a neighbourhood of Warsaw. Since in Lithuania and Poland all sons of a noble were nobles, and not only the eldest, every one of an estimated 500,000 nobles could potentially have participated in such elections in person - by far the widest franchise of any European country at the time. During the election period, the function of the king was performed by an interrex (usually in person of the primate of Poland). This unique Lithuanian and Polish election was termed the free election (wolna elekcja).

In the Islamic World Caliphs, successors to Muhammad, were originally elected by consensus of the community. The first four Caliphs were elected in this fashion as Sunni Muslims believed Muhammad had originally intended before Muawiyah, the fifth caliph, turned the Caliphate into what is known as the Umayyad Dynasty. The first four elected caliphs were remembered as the Four Rightly Guided Caliphs.

In 1858, the central tribes of North Island elected Potatau te Wherowhero as their monarch. The Tainui tribal elders have continued this tradition and the New Zealand Maori Kingitanga movement alive to the present.

At the start of the 20th century, the first monarchs of several newly independent nations were elected by parliaments: Norway is the prime example. Previously, following precedent set in newly independent Greece, new nations without a well-established hereditary royal family, often chose their own monarchs from among the established royal families of Europe rather than elevate a member of the local power establishment, in the hope that a stable hereditary monarchy would eventually emerge from the process. The now-deposed royal families of Greece, Bulgaria, Albania (unsuccessfully) and Romania were originally appointed in this manner.

A short-lived autonomous monarchy during World War II, the Principality of Pindus and Voivodship of Macedonia also was an elective monarchy.

Other monarchs, such as the Shah of Iran, have been required to undergo a parliamentary vote of approval before being allowed to ascend to the throne.

An attempt to create an elective monarchy in the United States failed. Alexander Hamilton argued in a long speech before the Constitutional Convention of 1787 that the President of the United States should be, in effect, an elective monarch, ruling for "good behavior" (i.e., for life, unless impeached) and with extensive powers.[citation needed] His proposal was resoundingly voted down in favor of a four-year term with the possibility of reelection. In his later defense of the Constitution in the Federalist Papers, he often hints that a lifetime executive might be better, even as he praises the system with the four-year term.

The Empire of Haiti established in 1804 was also elective.

Election in hereditary monarchies

In a hereditary monarchy, election may occasionally be used to fill a vacant throne. For example, the royal family may become extinct; depending on how precisely the succession to the throne is defined in law, several candidates with equally, or almost equally, strong claims could emerge, with an election being held to choose between them. This differs from a formally elective monarchy in that it is an extraordinary measure, and with the new monarch the succession again becomes hereditary.

Alternatively, the monarch may be deposed, as in a revolution. While sometimes a monarch may be forced to abdicate in favour of his or her heir, on other occasions the royal family as a whole has been rejected, the throne going to an elected candidate. Examples include:

Current uses

Currently, the world's only true elective monarchies are:

In addition, Andorra could be considered a semi-elective principality. Andorra's two heads of state are Spain's Bishop of La Seu d'Urgell and, since 1589, the king of France. As the French monarchy has long since been eliminated, the position of co-prince of Andorra falls to the democratically elected President of France. However, the Andorran authorities or people have no say in the election of the President of France, leaving Andorra in the unique position of having a monarch who is democratically elected by the citizenry of another state.

Swaziland also has a form of quasi-elective monarchy. In Swaziland, no king can appoint his successor. Instead, the royal family decides which of his wives shall be "Great wife" and "Indovukazi" (She-Elephant / Queen Mother). The son of this "Great Wife" will automatically become the next king. The eldest son is never appointed successor as he has other ceremonial roles.

In Nigeria, traditional rulers (or "royal fathers", e.g., the Adebonojo, Eze) are usually chosen by a council of kingmakers.

The succession to the throne of Saudi Arabia, while hereditary, is not determined by a succession law but rather by consensus of the House of Saud as to who will be Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia; consensus may change depending on the Crown Prince's actions. In effect, this makes the Saudi monarchy elective within the House of Saud, as the king's eldest son has not become Crown Prince since the death of King Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud in 1953.

The President of the United Arab Emirates, is nominally the head of the Al Nahyan clan and Emir of Abu Dhabi, and is a de facto hereditary position. Similarly, the elected Prime Minister has always been the head of the Al Maktoum clan and Emir of Dubai. Thus, although elected by the Supreme Council, the president and prime minister are essentially hereditary - the emir of Abu Dhabi holds the presidency, and the emir of Dubai is prime minister.

In New Zealand, the Maori monarch, head of the Maori King Movement, is elected by the kaumatua of various New Zealand iwi (tribes). However, every Maori monarch to date had been succeeded by a son or daughter, making the position hereditary in effect. The traditional heads of the three regions of Wallis and Futuna are similarly elected.

Samoa was an elective monarchy from the first day of independence in 1962. From 1963 on, Samoa had two heads of state, Tupua Tamasese Mea'ole and Malietoa Tanumafili II. Tupua Tamasese Mea'ole died in 1963, and Malietoa Tanumafili II was the sole head of state (O le Ao o le Malo) of Samoa until his death in 2007. The Samoan Constitution stipulates the successor to the two original heads of state are to be elected for five-year terms by the Fono, the parliament of Samoa. The elected successor was one of Samoa's four paramount chiefs, Tufuga Efi. However, articles 18 and 45 of the Samoan Constitution "Every Samoan citizen can be elected to parliament; every parliament member can be elected to the office of the head of state", and Samoa is now considered a parliamentary republic.

In fiction

In the prequel trilogy of Star Wars films, the planet Naboo is governed by an elected monarchy. Padmé Amidala, one of the series' main characters, was elected queen at the age of fourteen but was not the youngest ever to reign. She then went on to serve in the senate of the Galactic Republic. A system of elective monarchy was also present in the Galactic Empire. The next Galactic Emperor was, in theory, to be chosen by the Imperial Senate whenever the throne became vacant. However, the dissolution of the Senate by Palpatine prevented it from ever occurring.

In Games Workshop's Warhammer Fantasy fictional universe, The Empire is ruled by an Emperor who is chosen by majority voting of the various electors.

In the Lord Darcy universe, set out in a series of works by Randall Garrett, the Kings of the Anglo-French Empire are elected by Parliament from a small group of eligible members of the Royal Plantagenet family. See Michael Kurland's additions to the canon.

Shakespeare's Hamlet is often staged with the assumption that Denmark is or was an elective monarchy (which technically was true of Denmark at the time Hamlet was written). A similar system can be read into Macbeth to explain why the title character ascended to the throne.

In Hiroyuki Morioka's Crest of the Stars series of science fiction novels, the Abh Empire (Frybarec Gloerh gor Bari) is an elective monarchy. While the ruling monarch (speunaigh) is absolute, he or she is elected by the Dynasty Council from eight eligible royal families and usually does not rule for life.

In the Inheritance Cycle of fantasy novels, the monarch of the Dwarves is elected by the Clan Chiefs from within their number, holding the position from then until their death (although they must also receive divine approval).

Similarly, in Bioware's game Dragon Age: Origins, the Dwarves of Orzammar features an elective monarchy in which the monarch is elected by the Assembly of Nobles of the city, and then rules for life. He may choose an heir to the throne, but to the Assembly, this is little more than a recommendation on whom to vote on. The player character takes part in choosing a monarch during the original campaign.

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