Saturday, October 29, 2011

A Royal Proposition

What two things do the following countries have in common?

Denmark, Norway, Sweden, The Netherlands, The United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan

Firstly, they are some of the world's leading liberal democracies.  Economically strong, they offer their citizens opportunities which people from many other countries can only dream of.

Secondly, they are all constitutional monarchies.  Their head of state is a hereditary royal who for the most part has a symbolic role (real power resting with the parliament and the government), but who also has just enough in the way of 'reserve powers' to keep the politicians honest.

The countries in the list above fall into two broad classes:  There are the 'kingdoms' - the Scandinavian countries, the UK and Japan - where the monarch is actually based in the country concerned.  The other class is the 'dominions' - Canada, Australia & New Zealand - whose head of state (Queen Elizabeth II) is not resident and who exercises her function through a Governor General.

At this point I need to confess to being a (constitutional) monarchist.  Not because I believe that any person has a divine right to rule, simply because one of their distant ancestors had a bigger club than the other men in the village.  Not because I'm a fan of stuffiness and formality.  Not because I want to live in a fairytale world of princes, princesses, dragons and castles.

No.  I'm a constitutional monarchist for one very simple reason.  It works.

Constitutional monarchy delivers better results for citizens by separating the head of state from the political process.  Because the monarch doesn't have to seek re-election every four years, they are able to take a much longer-term view of events in the nation, and one which is more independent of the events of the day.  The reserve powers that they possess are insufficient to allow them to exercise power in their own name, but scary enough to keep elected politicians from usurping power.

So what are these reserve powers I keep mentioning?  Some of them are 'hard powers' such as the right to dissolve parliament in certain circumstances.  For example, in 1974, Australia's Governor General dissolved parliament when it became evident that it was incapable of passing a budget.  Just as important are the Monarch's soft powers, for example the bully-pulpit through which a modicum of moral leadership can be exercised.  An example of this would be the speeches of encouragement of King George V to his people during World War II.

Where am I going with this?  Look at Moldova's history as an independent state.  There have been many failed attempts to elect a president.  Of the three successful attempts, at least two resulted in the election of men more concerned with amassing fortunes than with the well-being of citizens.  The country has spent the last two years in continual constitutional limbo.  In short, the Moldovan Republic is dysfunctional.

Maybe it's time to give constitutional monarchy a shot?  Here's how I would do it:

  • Re-write the section of the constitution dealing with the Presidency such that it now deals with the Monarchy.  The monarchy would be passed from one generation to another by non-sexist primogeniture.
  • Limit the 'hard' reserve powers of the monarchy to dissolution of parliament in certain extreme cases (e.g. impossibility to form a government, impossibility to pass a budget, gross breaches of the constitution)
  • Modify the process of forming a government such that the monarch doesn't have the power to sack a government approved by parliament (this is a serious problem with the current constitution)
  • Write a provision into the constitution requiring a referendum every twenty years in which the population will be asked whether they want to retain the monarchy.  This keep the monarchy ultimately accountable to the people (without overly politicising it).
  • Keep them humble by offering relatively modest accommodation (e.g. the current presidential quarters) and by limiting pomp and ceremony to levels appropriate for a small and relatively poor country.  The "bicycling" monarchies of northern Europe should be the model in this regard.

The final question is, of course, where to find a monarch?  There seem to be three options:

  • Dig back into the distant past of the principality of Moldova and try to find a legitimate heir to the 'domnitori' of old.  While fraught with dangers, this option is the most likely to find favour with the rusophone left.
  • Do what Romania did in the 19th century and invite a foreigner to take the throne.  The best option in this case would be a member of one of the existing constitutional monarchies, as they would have a good understanding of how the institution functions.  There could be collateral security and trade benefits if Moldova was linked by blood to, say, the British monarchy.
  • The most obvious solution, however, is to (re)instate Romania's royal family.  They do, after all, have a legitimate claim to be the head of state on the territory of the Republic of Moldova, having been illegally dispossessed by Stalin's 1940 occupation of Basarabia.
The Rusophone left would obviously have issues with the final option, however in my mind they could be talked around.  First of all, the establishment of a monarchy would give a powerful boost to the development of a true, modern Moldovan identity, separate from the historic Romanian & Soviet identities.  Secondly, the reinstatement of the Romanian monarchy within constitutional arrangements inherited from the Soviet Union could be a powerful symbol of the two sides of Moldovan society coming back together.  Thirdly, were the monarch to be proactive in engaging the rusophone community (e.g. by learning their language), this could also go a long way towards diffusing opposition.  (The image comes to mind of Nelson Mandela bridging the gap between black and white in South Africa simply by wearing a Springbok rugby jersey...)

So.  Long live the (humble, constitutional, conciliatory, democratic, bicycling, almost-but-not-quite powerless) king!


  1. Nu am prea inteles faza cu construirea identitatii moldovenesti de catre monarhia româna ! ) Iar in privinta concilierii societatii moldovenesti, slaba speranta ! Uite ce se intampla in Belgia (tara bogara, centrul Europei si monarhie constitutionala). Acolo disputa e numai pe criterii lingvitice ! Cum crezi ca se va reconcilia societatea moldoveneasca, cand ea este polarizata pe criterii economice, lingvistice si ideologice ?

  2. hello
    i am really enjoying reading your blog. when will you post a new article?

    loking forward to it!