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Syed Haizam Jamalullail and Tunku ‘Abidin Muhriz writes in defense of constitutional monarchy:

The idea that a monarchy, an institution that derives its legitimacy largely from heredity can be ‘democratic’ can seem counterintuitive. However, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that monarchies are conducive to democracy and freedom. Seven of the top ten ‘full democracies’ in the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Index of Democracy are monarchies; so are six of the top ten countries in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index; twelve of the top twenty countries in the UNDP’s Human Development Index; and ten of the top twenty countries in the Heritage Foundation’s Index of Economic Freedom. These statistics are remarkable given that of the nearly 200 countries in the world, less than a quarter are monarchies.

First off, two of the seven “full democracies” don’t really have much of a monarch: both Australia and New Zealand have their royal power exercised by a civilian Governor-General. Likewise, three of the six Corruption Perception Index have their royal power vested in a civilian (Canada, New Zealand and Australia).

This belabours an important point: it isn’t the institution of monarchy itself that is vital for the nature of democracies in those countries. New Zealand and the United Kingdom, for example, have similar constitutional law – just that the United Kingdom is ranked somewhat below New Zealand on that Index of Democracy.

Yes, so it doesn’t appear that a constitutional monarchy contradicts democracy (though I’m of the opinion that if Sweden starts going to the polls for the President of Sweden, it would become a smidgen more democratic). However, Syed Haizan and Tunku Abidin makes a further argument that the institution of monarchy can strengthen democracy. Odd – the 1975 constitutional crisis in Australia was solved by civilian Sir John Kerr, appointed on the advice of the Prime Minister of Australia. The lack of regal history or authority was not critical in Sir John exercising his authority. President McAleese of Ireland probably has more personal authority and serves as a better uniting factor than, say, King Albert II of Belgium.

So why did Scandinavia end up with a constitutional monarchy? Like the United Kingdom, such democracies merely evolved from an absolute monarchy to a full democracy. The same evolution seems absent in Malaysia. More than that, the Perak constitutional crisis shows how the monarch can act as a very divisive figure: rather than uniting Pakatan and Barisan in Perak, the royal nature of the Sultan merely allowed UMNO to bulldoze through criticism of unconstitutionality (“How dare you say Zambry is unconstitutionally the MB? He was appointed by the Sultan! You are commiting treason!”)

There are republican alternatives to the monarchy – so the only reasons to keep them around is if these people are popular or simply it is too much of an hassle to evict them from their palaces. And I think for seven of the top ten democracies who are constitutional monarchies, the latter is the best explanation why they are still around.

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One Comment

  1. Many times the transition from a monarchy to a democracy is to accommodate and appease royalists and to give the incoming regime a sense of legitimacy rather than any sort of role in government. Unlike Malaysia, many other constitutional monarchies have no official powers and are more symbolic than . The Thai King is considered quite powerful because General Sarit restored the institution of the monarchy following his counter-coup.


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