Saturday, December 06, 2008

When is a constitutional monarch worth more than a bucket of warm tradition ?

James Wimberly writes

George III was a constitutional monarch: an executive constrained by laws and institutions. For the most part, the so-called constitutional monarchs of today are in fact symbolic. Except when there's a hole in the constitution; then the ghost of past power re-emerges and Kings, Queens and Governors-General of Canada or Australia actually get to decide something, like a president of Italy or Germany.

The live case is when a government loses its majority in the legislature. New election, or try to form a new government under a different prime minister?

In the United Kingdom, the only authoritative guidance is, believe it or not, offered by an anonymous letter to The London Times in 1951 by the King's Private Secretary, Sir Alan Lascelles. Lascelles reckoned that the monarch should try the second option. But it hasn't happened yet.


ah bei tempi passati. The president of Italy was an important person when elections didn't put any particular limit on who should be prime minister. Thus the President's authority to ask someone to try to find a majority was very important.

Now, sad to say, the electoral law has been changed, so that the current President, Giorgio Napolitano, a very moderate (actually a stuffy boring establishement) communist, had no choice but to invite Silvio Berlusconi to check whether is automatic majority was automatic.

Basically, the head of state of a parliamentary country is symbolic if there is one and only one clear majority in parliament and very powerful if different coalitions can find a majority.

Even the mother of parliaments had to listen to a mere king in 1929.

Now Italy is a relatively serious country. Over here, we read the constitution and not anonymous letters to the editor. It is very clear that the President of the Republic is only supposed to call an early election if it is impossible to find a majority in the current parliament.

Oh but wouldn't the world be a much better and more democratic place if Sir Alan Lascelles had written his letter to The Sun ?

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