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Monarchies in modern democracy

How have ancient monarchies survived and what are their roles in current democracies? : Michael Joiner, 360info CC by 4.0 How have ancient monarchies survived and what are their roles in current democracies? : Michael Joiner, 360info CC by 4.0

Monarchies were once the most common forms of government. 360info looks at the role they play in our modern democratic societies.

This weekend’s coronation of King Charles III has put the role of monarchies back in the spotlight.

The role of Charles as the head of the Commonwealth is largely ceremonial.

Despite this, the Archbishop of Canterbury has asked the public to pledge allegiance to the King in a “chorus of a million voices”, for the first time in history.

Traditionally, hereditary peers were expected to kneel before touching the crown and kissing the monarch’s right cheek.

“A transition to a new sovereign inevitably prompts questions about whether the monarchy remains fit for purpose,” said Sally Raudon, social anthropologist at the University of Cambridge.

She said 2015 research looked at how the crown functioned in Australian society compared to the United Kingdom and the post-colonial Commonwealth realms of Canada and New Zealand, and predicted the likelihood of republican reform in any of these countries.

Members of the Commonwealth have varying support for the king, ranging from Jamaica’s push towards becoming a republic to New Zealand retaining ‘God Save the Queen’ (now ‘God Save the King’) as its second national anthem.

“With the death of Queen Elizabeth II, the glue that bound 56 disparate nations is gone,” said Craig Prescott, Lecturer in Law at Bangor University.

“Elizabeth II personified the monarchy’s link to the past. For good or ill, she was part of the Commonwealth story.

“The Commonwealth [now] faces two main questions: the constitutional future of the Commonwealth realms, and the future of the Commonwealth itself.”

Monarchies represent many things to people — power, history, culture and colonialism. These hereditary institutions were once the most common form of government before a 20th-century shift towards republicanism saw the majority lose their legitimacy, placing power in the hands of the people.

Research by Catherine Ouellet at the University of Toronto, Nadjim Fréchet at Université de Montréal and Yannick Dufresne at Université Laval found support for or against the monarchy is based more on symbolic factors rather than rational concerns.

“Some people’s reluctance to break away from the monarchy could be seen as a nationalist response to growing ethnic diversity and the perception of a cultural threat,” they said.

“Citizens favouring the monarchy are more likely to display negative sentiments towards cultural groups they are not a part of — Asians and Indigenous Australians in Australia, and Quebecers and Indigenous peoples in Canada.”

Modern monarchies take on several different forms. From constitutional monarchies with restricted political power, to absolute monarchies with influence across all aspects of government.

In Indonesia, the province of Yogyakarta has special privileges under the national democratic government, placing the sultan as de facto governor with its allocation of funds in the national budget.

People in the Pacific island nation of Tonga pride themselves on being the last remaining monarchy in the Pacific and having never ceded their sovereignty.

In the mountain-locked country of Bhutan, the king has been crucial in the transition from absolute monarchy to democracy.

And while Japan’s constitutional monarchy may have lost its governing power following World War II, research found the emperor’s opinion can still have a lot of sway.

Where the public once looked at monarchies as a representation of continuity, stability and tradition, much of their powers have now diminished, with only a few still hanging on — modernised and in new forms.

Originally published under Creative Commons by 360info™.

Editors Note: In the story “Monarchies in modern democracy” sent at: 03/05/2023 11:51.

This is a corrected repeat.

Tasha Wibawa
Commissioning Editor, 360info Asia-Pacific