Sunday, June 11, 2006

The Virtues of Constitutional Monarchy

It seems that Friday marked the sixtieth anniversary of King Bhumibol Adulyadej's rule over Thailand. The king, while he is technically no more than a figurehead, is greatly respected by the people of Thailand. His relatively apolitical and esteemed position has allowed him to intercede in cases of political crisis.

Some examples from Political Gateway:
October 1973: Hundreds are killed when the then-military dictatorship cracks down on protests. The king makes his first major political intervention, asking the prime minister to leave the country and later appointing a new premier, leading to a brief flowering of democracy.

May 1992: Hundreds of thousands of pro-democracy protesters fill the streets of Bangkok demanding a return to civilian rule. Dozens are killed after junta leader General Suchinda Kraprayoon assumed the prime minister's post without contesting elections.

The king summons the generals and pro-democracy leaders to the palace, admonishes them and asks them to reconcile. The killings stop and Suchinda agrees to resign.

April 2006: After months of protests, Thailand holds inconclusive elections that force Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra to take leave from office.

With the government mired in political deadlock, the king chastizes the Supreme Court on national television for failing to take action. Within days, the election is invalidated and the process to organize new polls begins.
Whereas King Bhumibol's beneficial role in Thai politics may not be typical, I think that his case illustrates many of the advantages of constitutional monarchy.

In my view, the main advantage of constitutional monarchy is that it addresses two major needs by providing democratic representation of the people, while preserving an impartial, unifying presence.

Concerning the first point, it is undoubtedly an inalienable right of all people to have a meaningful influence over their government. Because of this right, I obviously don't argue for any form of monarchy that is not constrained by written or unwritten laws.

That said, representative democracies have their drawbacks, too. For one thing, democratically-elected politicians don't really command much trust or respect. They tend to look after their own interests — and, by extension, those of their supporters — rather than considering the (long-term) needs and wishes of the general population. The perceived or real lack of integrity and selflessness in politics leads to voter apathy and divisiveness, which counteracts many of the positive aspects of democracy.

Constitutional, "powerless" monarchs, unlike politicians or absolute monarchs, are firmly established, and rely on no one for support. Being much less susceptible to bias, selfish motivations, or partisanship, they are more likely to be esteemed by their subjects. In short, they can do much to promote unity, stability, and maturity in their country's politics.

Note: Information taken from CBC article and Wikipedia entry.


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