Who Rules in a Constitutional Monarchy

  • Post author:
  • Post category:Uncategorized

Unlike some of her continental European counterparts, the Westminster monarch and her representatives retain substantial “reserve” or “prerogatives” that can only be exercised in cases of extreme urgency or constitutional crisis (e.g. Australia 1975, Grenada 1983, Solomon Islands 1994), usually to maintain parliamentary government. In such cases, a lack of public understanding of the Constitutional Convention can lead to controversy. When the Whitlam government was impeached in Australia in 1975, for example, Governor General John Kerr was widely blamed for its intervention in the supply crisis, much to the confusion of British and Canadian constitutional experts. Instead, some of these authorities, such as Lord Hailsham (the former Lord Chancellor of the United Kingdom) and Senator Eugene Forsey (Canada`s main constitutional authority for the Crown`s reserve powers), argued that responsibility for the crisis in Australia and its outcome should have been attributed to the then Leader of the Opposition. Malcolm Fraser, who was politically responsible for both the denial of supplies and the immediate crisis, and who was formally responsible for Whitlam`s removal under the Westminster conventions on the exercise of reserve powers. Based on this controversy, legal commentators have since argued that public understanding of the Crown`s constitutional role must be improved if monarchs themselves are to survive the legitimate exercise of their duties in times of crisis. The United Kingdom and the other Commonwealth realms are all constitutional monarchies in Westminster`s system of constitutional governance. Two constitutional monarchies – Malaysia and Cambodia – are elective monarchies in which the leader is regularly chosen by a small electoral college.

An absolute monarchy is a form of government in which a king or queen rules with totally unchallenged and uncontrolled political and legislative power. Based on the ancient concept of the “divine right of kings,” which suggests that kings derived their authority from God, absolute monarchies operate according to the political theory of absolutism. Today, the only remaining pure absolute monarchies are Vatican City, Brunei, Swaziland, Saudi Arabia, Eswatini and Oman. With the exception of post-war Italy, no modern, democratic constitutional monarchy voted to abolish it, but Greece voted against restoring its constitutional monarchy after the overthrow of the military government. There are sixteen constitutional monarchies under Queen Elizabeth II known as the Commonwealth Realms. [19] Unlike some of her continental European counterparts, in Commonwealth realms the monarch and her governors general have significant “reserves” or “prerogatives” that can be exercised in cases of extreme urgency or constitutional crisis, usually to maintain parliamentary government. One case in which a Governor-General exercised this power occurred during the Australian constitutional crisis of 1975, when Australian Prime Minister Gough Whitlam was removed from office by the Governor-General. The Australian Senate had threatened to block the government`s budget by refusing to pass the necessary allocation legislation. On November 11, 1975, Whitlam intended to call a semi-senatorial election to break the deadlock. When seeking the Governor General`s approval for the election, the Governor General removed him as Prime Minister and shortly thereafter installed Opposition Leader Malcolm Fraser in his place. Fraser and his allies acted quickly before all parliamentarians learned of the change of government, and the governor general dissolved Parliament for a double dissolution election.

Fraser and his government were re-elected with an overwhelming 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, experience has confirmed the value of the monarchy as a source of checks and balances against elected politicians who might seek powers beyond those conferred by the constitution, and ultimately as a safeguard against dictatorship. Today, the world`s 43 constitutional monarchies are members of the Commonwealth of Nations, an intergovernmental support organization of 53 countries headed by the reigning monarch of the United Kingdom. Some of the best-known examples of these modern constitutional monarchies are the governments of the United Kingdom, Canada, Sweden, and Japan. The most important family of constitutional monarchies in the world today are the sixteen realms of the Commonwealth of Nations, all independent parliamentary democracies under a common monarch, currently Queen Elizabeth II. Unlike the UK, almost all other Commonwealth countries have drafted constitutions with complex processes of constitutional amendments. Through political crises, peaceful draft constitutions and international debates, the Westminster Conventions on the Constitutional Monarch have acquired a much clearer definition in the other fifteen kingdoms than in the United Kingdom. In many of these constitutions, the monarch or representative of the crown is considered an integral part of the executive and legislative branches of government, and this position is at least partially expressly protected by the written constitution. Although many left-wing parties past and present in Europe contain anti-monarchical factions, few have so far openly declared their preference for total monarchical abolition, instead using their power to restrict and reform supposedly “undemocratic” or “partial” elements of the monarchy.