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Monarchy & Democracy

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Monarchy & Democracy in the 21 s t Century



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Monarchy and Democracy Mark Mancall



The Relevance of Hegelian Monarchy: Modern Dynasties, Political Crises and the ‘Perfect Prince’ Mark R. Thompson



The Limits of Constitutional Monarchy in Scandinavia Jørgen Elklitt and Birgitta Wistrand



Democracy and Monarchy in Thailand Dr Suchit Bunbongkarn



The Future of Thai Monarchy Kavi Chongkittavorn



Lessons from Japan’s Symbolic Monarchy Kenneth J. Ruoff



The Story of the Demise of the Monarchy in Nepal Sudhindra Sharma



Once Upon a Time: The Rise and Fall of the Nepal Monarchy Kunda M. Dixit



Media, Monarchy and the Management

Hugh O’Donnell


Monarchy & Democracy in the 21st Century

10. Self-Censorship: A Means to An End Kinley Dorji

11. The Bhutanese Media and a Democratic Constitutional Monarchy Siok Sian Pek-Dorji



12. Bhutan’s ‘Democratic Constutional Monarchy’:

Revisiting Kingship and Democratic Transition Theories Sonam Kinga

13. Bhutan’s Democratic Journey Renata Dessallien




Monarchy and Democracy

Mark Mancall

The origins of the conference which gave rise to these papers derive from several different directions. First, a one-day conference was held at Stanford University in California in the spring of 2008, which took as its focus the supposed opposition between “monarchy” and “democracy”. As was pointed out by some members of the conference, this opposition made no sense either in contemporary political theory or in practice. Indeed, many monarchies are democracies (for example, Great Britain, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands, and even Japan). While the conference passed almost as an unmarked moment in time, the supposed opposition between monarchy and democracy often appears in armchair commentary on political affairs or in ill-informed, semi-scholarly work. In light of this there was, and remains, a pressing intellectual and practical need to explore the relationship, rather than the opposition, between monarchy and democracy. This was one of the objectives of the conference held Paro, Bhutan, on May 17- 20, 2009. We hope that the conference and the resulting papers will reignite a discussion in political theory about monarchy, particularly as it may evolve in the 21 st century.

Second, the Kingdom of Bhutan adopted a democratic Constitution in 2008. This Constitution has been consistently described as, and in reality is, a gift from the Monarch to his people, in particular a gift from His Majesty the fourth Druk Gyalpo, the fourth King of the Wangchuck Dynasty, which has ruled in Bhutan was signed by all members of Parliament in the presence of His Majesty the King, March 24, 2008, under the new Constitution. From the very beginning, among the many topics discussed among the intellectuals and bureaucrats in Bhutan,


Monarchy & Democracy in the 21st Century

particularly in the capital (to the extent that serious conversation about these monarch in the new “democratic monarchical” system and, second, the degree to which the new system is truly democratic. The Constitution has not been clearly interpreted in both these areas, either institutionally by the Constitutional bodies or conversationally by those participating in the discourse. Indeed it may be argued that, within Bhutan, the discourse will persist in the future. The lack of conclusions and of the description of the democratic institutions it established sharpened the feeling that such a conference would be useful.

We hoped that by bringing together a small group of scholars and journalists who them new ways of thinking about the issues that face us nationally. At the same time we hoped that our experience combined with theirs would, as mentioned above, reopen the discourse about monarchy in 21 st century political theory.

The conference was structured in such a way as to encourage discourse itself. The participants were asked not to write papers but only to prepare discussion notes, and the conference was conducted throughout as a conversation among the participants, gently (we hope) guided by a set of questions that we posed to each other. Only after the end of the conference were the participants asked conference required very little guidance and moved ahead on its own momentum, each moment of participation building on what had been said previously. It was an exhilarating experience which still continues, months later, to raise issues of no little importance. At the same time we must admit honestly that the conference came to no conclusions that could be applied universally; rather, we seemed to conclude that the issue was worth further and deeper discussion as the present century wears on. From the point of view of the Bhutanese participants, all of whom shared in these opinions, we still have a long road to travel before we achieve any clarity future will see the development of a discourse in political theory within Bhutan contribute further to the growth of democracy and to greater clarity concerning the monarchical institution, which is so central to our very national existence.


Monarchy and Democracy

The conference took place, and indeed was organised, around a set of intellectual, theoretical, and historical issues which, in fact, were examined and re-examined by the participants.

It seems that there are a series of concept confusions that appear across the board in many areas of political theory, political thought, and even political action. These concept confusions may arise from different sources: for example, institutional considerations, and, we may argue, a certain confusion develops when Western political theory confronts non-Western societies. Conversely confusion may also appear in the thought and practice of non-Western political thinkers and practitioners when they attempt to apply concepts and intellectual attitudes learned in Western institutions to their own other-than-Western societies. For instance the application of Western legal theory or Constitutional institutions to societies that already have developed their own legal procedures and institutions for resolving no less obviously, of the mentalité of the theorists and practitioners themselves. There would seem to be a confusion between the concept of “democracy” or “democratisation”, particularly in contemporary American political thought and action, and the concept of “republicanism” or, at least, a republican form of government. (It may well be that this concept confusion is what led the Stanford conference to pose an opposition between monarchy and democracy, a fallacy that was pointed out by a member of Stanford’s own political science department who participated in the conference.) It must be pointed out that this concept confusion many republican forms of government, such as Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, were patently undemocratic or even anti-democratic; similarly some undemocratic governments, such as the Spanish regime under Francisco Franco, were titularly monarchical. The institution of republican forms of government does not imply democratisation, nor does democratisation imply a republican form of government.

Another area of concept confusion seems to arise with the use of terms such as “representative democracy” in the context of elections to parliamentary institutions. The simple holding of elections is no guarantee of democracy if we judge from Soviet, Chinese, and other examples around the world. Nor does the holding of elections that lead to populating parliamentary institutions with representatives


Monarchy & Democracy in the 21st Century

elected by voters participating in “legal” or “Constitutional” elections necessarily guarantee democracy. This can be seen in the frequency with which certain powers have insisted that elections be held in one or another country on the supposition that elections themselves will lead to the process of democratisation. Indeed there is no evidence to support such a conclusion when we analyse political reality. A further conceptual confusion arises between the concept “representative democracy” and something that might be called “functional democracy”. Democratic institutions may run the gamut from congregations that include the entire community of citizens (ancient Athens, for example) to those that use a variety of techniques to arrive at popular consensus in traditional villages. This kind of confusion has been recognised in recent years by some scholars who are looking at the potential for the development of democratic ways of assessing opinion that do not rest political theory needs to take greater account of the research produced in certain areas of anthropology.

Many theorists, scholars, and policymakers, though not all by any means, share theory qua political theory is applicable to all instances without regard to certain variables that seem to be left out of their considerations.

One variable that does not appear to be taken into consideration in contemporary discussions is that of the size of the state or polity that is the focus of attention for the theorist or the researcher. Within a European context polities such as the Dutch, the Belgian, or the Danish, to mention just a few examples, were considered “small” and some scholarship about them paid attention to that idea. However, in more modern times, the number of states that are not just small but are in many ways “tiny” – but which are still full and equal members of the international community, at least legally – has increased. In these states, where “small” or “tiny” call into question a great deal of theory and research on political institutions based on larger societies, to the extent that the theoretical formulations and research results based on the largest societies are applied to small or tiny ones. To give but one example: how do the institutions of “representative democracy” function in a polity in which almost all the members of the politically active community know each other and are actually or putatively related to each other across class and geography? In fact what does “representation” mean in such a small but highly integrated community?


Monarchy and Democracy

Democratic theory also appears to have ignored the variable that may be characterised as the stage of development, economic or political, of a given polity. Some theorists of democracy appear to think that representative democratic institutions can be introduced to, or imposed on, a society regardless of its stage of development, much as certain tendencies in Communist theory thought that the stage of capitalism could be skipped and a particular society could jump immediately from feudalism to socialism. This argument frequently takes a propagandistic form for immediate political purposes, but the question needs to be raised on both theoretical and practical levels. Certainly this is easily observable in foreign policy.

Political theory, and often political practice as proposed by certain governments states or polities to which advice is being offered. The problem becomes even more acute when the elites of other-than-Western societies adopt Western concepts and institutions without profoundly adapting them to their own polities. This situation is exacerbated by the frequent tendency to rely on outsourcing decisions to consultants who by virtue of coming from “more advanced” societies or political systems are given an authority of opinion that overwhelms local considerations. Indeed, it may not be too far-fetched to speak here of a kind of “developmentalist imperialism”, supported by the education of many members of non-Western elites in Western institutions.

In the republic of academic institutions, political theorists and, at certain levels, that are so much the daily bread of historians and anthropologists; they have come to believe that there is something called “democracy” that is (1) an object of universal desire, and (2) a conceptual benchmark from which particular political circumstances can move a society away or toward which they can move a society. At a theoretical level, discussions of the political situation in Thailand in recent times appear to have rested upon these assumptions about the universal desirability of democracy and the measurement of progress toward or away from democracy

On both the theoretical and practical levels positions taken on the issues mentioned so far may be divided into two camps, roughly denominated “right” and “left” (in the European, not the North American, sense), for shorthand


Monarchy & Democracy in the 21st Century

purposes. Take, for example, the question of the “inclusiveness” of “democracy”. The “right”, it may be argued, privileges the political institutionalisation of some form of representative or elective democracy. This theoretical position leaves open questions such as the characteristics that voters or individuals eligible for election of these characteristics may always be negotiable, but without the existence of a set of characteristics, however they may be agreed upon, it is almost impossible to conceptualise a representative elected democracy.

The “left”, on the other hand, appears to argue from very different assumptions about the necessary prerequisites for a democracy. While the “right” may address an approach very much in line with the “individualism” to which the right lays claim – the “left” tends to understand “democracy” in a much broader context, so theoreticians of the “left” may raise questions concerning the very possibility of political democracy in the absence of social and economic democracy. Another issue that may concern the “left” is the possibility of democracy in a society in which income differentials are so great that the possession of, or access to, money is the overwhelming characteristic of eligibility for election or for participation in decision-making. In this perspective, “representative democracy” may serve narrow class or other-group interests or even function as an empty shell serving non-democratic purposes.

To put the matter another way there is a theoretical distinction between procedural democracy, which focuses primarily on representative institutions both nationally and locally, and “substantive democracy”, which subsumes not only a genuine public accountability of representative institutions but also the democratisation of the economic, social, and other domains of collective human life.

These observations, while certainly not novel, provided the theoretical context for the Paro conference. But the conference was also contextualised by modern history, particularly since the so-called “Reagan/Thatcher revolution”. The particular chronological framework for this historical context arises from the fact that it is consensus”, which, broadly speaking, consisted of the application of neoliberal economic theory and its domination not only of economic policymaking but


Monarchy and Democracy

such as Bhutan could not help but consider the future of its internal political arrangements within the context of the Washington consensus, whether Bhutan’s policymakers were completely aware of that fact or not. This is reinforced by two without the possession of an educated elite trained in the political and economic thought and reality of the pre-Washington consensus world. The generation of leaders who eventually brought Bhutan to the point at which “democratic” institutions were introduced through the adoption of the Constitution largely experienced an external environment dominated to a remarkably great extent by the theories and practices of the Washington consensus. This, furthermore, was reinforced by the fact that the leadership generation in question was largely trained in Western institutions that were themselves both the source of and the vehicle for the propagation of the Washington consensus. (It is interesting to note here taken place in French academic institutions at the beginning of the 1990’s, but France was not on the academic or the intellectual horizon of Bhutan.)

The basic assumptions of the Washington consensus that concern us here revolve around the idea that a free market economy is a natural phenomenon, a “force of nature”, and that it and “democracy” or “democratisation” are linked by some kind of transcendent umbilical cord, each reinforcing, feeding, the other. The acceptance of these assumptions in much of North American academia and in some British political circles resulted in an inability to hear, much less to take seriously, other perspectives, such as Scandinavian social democracy, Japanese or Singaporean “capitalism” or, for that matter, Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness, as variants of its own perspective rather than alternatives. This tendency was strengthened by the triumphalism attendant upon the collapse of Communism in 1989 and after. In the non-Francophone West, the dominance of the Washington consensus was rooted in the marketing of its ideas through the education of students from the “developing world” and by the power of the productive economic forces and the military forces of the Anglophone West. The period from 1980 to the collapse of therefore, the aggressive marketing of “democracy” and “democratisation” internationally, particularly its republican forms, by at least one Great Power, using all means possible.


Monarchy & Democracy in the 21st Century

This, then, is the broad context within which the Paro conference took place, but no less important is the fact that it is in this same period that political thought and practice in Bhutan began to move in the direction of the adoption of a political system based upon the immediate intellectual and institutional assumptions of the Anglo-Saxon West or of its Indian derivative (remember that most Bhutanese bureaucrats possessing political views in this area were educated abroad, primarily in Anglo-Saxon or Indian academic institutions of one sort or another).

The Bhutanese Context The issues discussed above, often unrecognised by the Bhutanese political players themselves, also provided the context for developments in Bhutan over the last 35 of the fourth King took place on June 2, 1974, and his reign witnessed profound institutional, social and economic changes in the country. Indeed to say that it “witnessed” these changes may be something of a misnomer, since the truth of the matter is that he himself provided the vision and leadership for these changes. This was possible in part, but only in part, due to the fact that during his reign Bhutan came as close to being an absolute monarchy as possible (due to the development of means of communications and control), it being understood that when all is said and done no such thing as an “absolute” polity of any kind may ever have existed. To no small extent, it must be carefully noted, the power of the Monarch to inspire, direct, and guide the changes that Bhutan experienced in this era derived very much from the extraordinary personality of the fourth King himself.

Several developments during this period provided the immediate contextual environment for the Paro conference. First, from the fourth Druk Gyalpo’s ideas, and under his leadership, Bhutan developed, however gradually, a Bhutanese “idea” of development in all domains, an idea that has come to be known internationally as well as domestically as Gross National Happiness. The discussion of Gross National Happiness, and of its reception at home and abroad, will have to be the image, perhaps somewhat vague to be sure, of a polity – in political, social, and to recognise, however, that the idea and its acceptance, publically almost without question, were, and continue to be, intimately associated with the mind and personality of the fourth King within a polity that was widely considered to be an absolute monarchy.


Monarchy and Democracy

Under His Majesty the fourth Druk Gyalpo’s leadership Bhutan underwent a transformation (I am consciously attempting to avoid teleological terms such

as “development” or “modernisation” which have become very much a part of contemporary Bhutanese political discourse). This transformation included, most profoundly, a transformation in the relationships of the means of production,

a process which began during the reigns of the earlier Kings of the Wangchuck dynasty, and involved, for example, the abolition of certain pre-modern relationships between labour and land, the introduction of money, etc.

The reign of the fourth King also saw a rapid increase in urbanisation in the country and the appearance of new social classes clustered around the increasingly from the growth of domestic educational opportunities and opportunities to study abroad as well as from the growth of international travel. Education and travel, overwhelmingly to the Anglo-Saxon West as well as to India, were the primary vehicles for the intrusion of, and eventually domination by, Western, particularly

These developments, and others too, reached a crescendo with the beginning of the transforming a kingdom ruled by an “absolute monarch” into a polity over which a “Constitutional monarch” reigned as “head of state” in a parliamentary democracy. It needs to be clearly stated that there was no evident popular demand for such

a transformation, and that, moreover, very little cultural, social, educational, or

political preparation was made for the transformation. Even more to the point it is the relationships of the means of production had reached a level where changes in political structures were required. This transformation was accomplished through the Paro conference, radically transformed the political nature of the Bhutanese monarchy and raised the question, in both practical and intellectual terms, of the sources of legitimacy on which the throne’s authority rested.

From the perspective of the foreign observer as well as of the internal participant, the rapid and very remarkable political transformation which took st century introduced into


Monarchy & Democracy in the 21st Century

Bhutanese history and into the nation’s political, social and economic practice, a sharp discontinuity with which all concerned are still grappling in an effort to of contradiction that throughout the 20 th century the monarchy was the one truly “national” institution in the kingdom. Bhutanese thinkers are still wrestling with the implications of such a profound discontinuity, introduced by the order of an “absolute monarch” to create a “constitutional monarchy”. This is why the issue of the relationship between monarchy and democracy takes on such importance within Bhutan against the background of the experience of other transformations in different political, social, economic and cultural environments.

The Paro Conference The objective of the Paro conference was to explore the theoretical bases and concepts for the study of monarchy in the various societies represented at the conference. The conversation was conducted in such a way as to encourage an in-depth exchange of ideas and experiences. Among the questions raised at the beginning were these: what are the trajectories of change that monarchy has followed in democratizing societies? What kinds of monarchies were they before they started on the trajectory of change, and how did their point of departure social, economic, political and international forces? What are the problems they have encountered along these trajectories? How have scholars and journalists formulated these problems? What are the foundations upon which we can reignite reintroduction of the conceptual study of monarchy into the political discourse and theory of the 21 st century? What kinds or categories of monarchy are there at the present time? Are there lessons from the past that make monarchies relevant for the future?

Moving closer to the core of our issues we wanted to explore the varieties of institutional and Constitutional structures that characterise contemporary monarchies in “democratising” polities. How are contemporary monarchies in such polities constituted? The Constitution of monarchies and of monarchical legitimacy through the writing and creation of history, the use of ceremonial and public festivals, special social arrangements, and the theoretical formulations used


Monarchy and Democracy

to undergird the monarchical institution, the mechanisms for the construction of monarchical “charisma” in the era prior to democratisation and in the era of democratisation: these were some of the phenomenological questions raised in the discussion. These lists can only hint at the range of questions raised by the participants throughout the conference.

Given the nature and breadth of the conference it is impossible for the papers discussion, and the excitement of the exchanges among the participants. We offer but, rather, as spurs that we hope will lead to the return of monarchy to political discourse.

In looking for participants in this conference we were struck by the relative paucity of scholars whose main concern is monarchy. At the same time as the conference progressed, and even more so after the conference, we became aware of scholars The existing literature on monarchy, particularly literature in the second half of the 20 th century in English, is overwhelmingly a literature of nostalgia. This itself was an interesting datum.

At the same time we were not unaware of the fact that those of us who were addicted watchers of the television series “Star Trek” or continue to read science depicted in these tales of a world not yet born, and, no less interesting, there is relatively little capitalism. We also became more aware of the fact that many “presidential” democratic systems tend toward, or often display characteristics of, monarchical systems. For example a semiological analysis of the way recent American presidents have presented themselves to the public, particularly in press conferences, suggests that a slogan “the monarchy is dead; long live the King” may not be an inapt description of the contemporary state of presidential polities.

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The papers in this volume are not intended to provide a coherent and integrated discussion of the issues surrounding monarchy and democracy in the 21 st century. Rather they have two quite distinct but closely related purposes. First, the conference


Monarchy & Democracy in the 21st Century

and the papers that issued from it were and are intended to provide a perspective on questions concerning the development of monarchical ideas and institutions in the environment of experimentation with democratic institutions and ideas that seem to characterize the late 20 th and early 21 st centuries. In this perspective the rediscovery of the “state” in contemporary political discourse and research necessarily raises the question of the varieties of states and Constitutional arrangements that are or may be appropriate to state formation and change in the particular historical conjuncture of the present and in the general, long-range process of change that characterises the economic, social, political, and environmental domains of our contemporary world. To frame the question as directly as possible, are the forms of leadership and the institutions for the public expression of opinion and the making of public decisions that seemed to be developing in many parts of the world after the end of the Second World War and even earlier, adequate to our contemporary condition? This volume, therefore, wants to not only encourage of monarchy as a particular form of the contemporary state in future discussions.

development of approaches to the creation of a “democratic” polity, for historical in terms of the new political system appears not to have been integrated into the broader political discourse concerning the state. As time passes it becomes evident that the Bhutanese experience may itself contribute something to the development of political thought in this area. Moreover as globalisation increasingly facilitates discourse enriched by the kinds of changes that took place at the Paro conference.

* * *

philosopher Hegel. This is particularly striking because rarely are the reasoning and insights of a Western philosopher applied to the analysis of a non-Western examples drawn from different societies, is to distinguish between the Monarch variable. Beginning his contribution with an expression of the doubts, and often


Monarchy and Democracy

the dismissiveness, of much of the contemporary discussion of monarchies, for a positive role for monarchy in the present and future. Of course, the broadly accepted generalisation that progress moves from monarchy to republicanism may be questioned from the Hegelian perspective that Mark Thompson provides. The paper thus points in a potentially very productive direction for future theoretical discourse on monarchy.

The paper by Jørgen Elklit and Birgitta Wistrand goes right to the heart of the matter of monarchical political theory by revealing Scandinavian experience in this area and raising the idea that monarchies may exercise “soft power” and not just because it is constrained by democratic Constitutions but even, perhaps, because of that. They suggest that the monarchy may have a stronger role than suspected precisely because its role as manifest in the formal institutions of a monarchical state may be left, perhaps even purposely, amorphous.

Dr. Suchit Bunbongkarn discusses monarchy, the Thai monarchy in particular, as an instrument to “maintain peace, stability, and unity amidst political turmoil monarchy, for reasons of history and experience, can play a role that mediates between demands for the growth of democracy and the forces or conditions that may hinder or oppose such a growth; moreover he argues that, again for historical reasons, the monarchy can contribute to , but not ensure that, democratic development will be “peaceful and sustainable”. To some extent, this view redesigns in democratic terms the traditional role of the Thai monarch, at least as it has been constituted since the middle of the 19 th century. Monarchy, thus understood as playing a mediating role, serves, as it were, as a midwife in the birth of a new democratic system if, of course, the other powers that are at play permit it to do so. This argument resonates strongly with arguments in other papers in this volume. It is suggestive of the role of the media discussed in Siok Sian Pek-Dorji’s paper and of the role of the monarchy discussed in Kenneth Ruoff ’s contribution, among others. On another level, Dr. Suchit’s paper may lead in the direction of a different analytical perspective: can we, or should we, consider the existence of monarchy as an independent variable in understanding violence in democratic transitions?

Kavi Chongkittavorn points very clearly to the fact that consideration of the monarchy must take into account the other political institutions and social classes


Monarchy & Democracy in the 21st Century

in the midst of which the monarchy performs its functions and against the background of which the monarchy has to take into account and be accountable for the welfare of the people and the nation as a whole. This essay appears at a particularly sensitive moment in the history of the Thai polity, but its application makes a point valid for monarchy in general, when it suggests that the King (by extension not only the Thai king) has a role to “continue to serve as the head of state and symbol of unity…”.

Kenneth J. Ruoff brings our attention to at least two important facets of the conversation. First, he makes it clear that the symbolic function of the monarchy may well be no less important, indeed in some cases may be even more important, than its political function. Second, he clearly sees the potential of monarchy as an agent for positive political and social change in a society. It may be precisely because the Monarch is above politics that he or she has the ability to serve as a positive agent of change in the face of, or despite, the political interests that lodge in the “democratic” institutions of the state.

Sudhindra Sharma’s article, “The Story of the Demise of Nepal’s Monarchy”, provides us with a very analytical overview of the history of the Nepalese monarchy. In several ways it stands in contrast to the story told by Sonam Kinga and is, therefore, very instructive. Several elements require noting: the role of the monarchs’ personalities; the inability of either the monarchy or the political leadership to develop a coherent position about democratisation and to sketch, agree upon, and follow a single path from their present to the future; the importance historically of violence in an extremely segmented society, leading eventually to radical demands and to armed struggle for change (if not necessarily particular event. More broadly, the Nepalese story includes three elements that were absent in the transition that Bhutan has undergone: (1) The international was the relatively more obvious than in other situations. (2) Domestic politics took place at a certain distance from the people themselves, doubtless due to the fact that caste combined with class produced in Nepal a society so segmented that those above do not think it necessary to take into consideration those below. (3) apparently leaderless process of political change. Sharma’s paper demonstrates,


Monarchy and Democracy

such historical complexity. The contrast with Bhutan’s carefully guided process of change could not be more marked and suggests the role that intelligent leadership from above may play in 21st century democratisation processes.

Monarchical failure, the subject of Kunda Dixit’s contribution, provides much material for speculation and theorising. It is obvious that the personality of the Monarch and the Monarch’s relatives is a political factor that must always be taken into account. (Of course, the same may be said of non-monarchical polities as well, and a certain surprise must be expressed at fact that the role of personality is taken into theoretical account far less than history suggests it should be.) This is by no means a consideration that has been unremarked, but its importance may be of different systems may need to take “incidental variables” such as personality into greater account than they do. The second observation that Dixit makes, and which with which the “Nepalis have forgotten that the country was ever a monarchy…”. To put it perhaps more abstractly than the author intended, memory and the monarchy exist in a dialectical relationship characterised by some tension, and the Monarch and other powers that exist in any given monarchical polity must pay attention to the dynamics of this relationship if monarchy is going to be able to provide future focus and stability.

Hugh O’Donnell, discussing the experience of the Spanish monarchy, warns against the emergence of what he calls “celebrity monarchy”, that is to say, monarchy as entertainment (and, we may add, of both the highest and the lowest kind) and, at history carried on into the present and future and a channel for emotion that may contribute positively to the national stability in the midst of crisis.

Kinley Dorji’s essay on self-censorship brings into the discussion of monarchy, and even more important, into the discussion of democracy broadly conceived, the issue of censorship not as a means of oppression to retain a system that would otherwise falter but, perhaps less noticed and remarked upon, self-censorship as a means for maintaining and strengthening a particular monarchical system. He also points to the ways in which certain forms of verbal expression lodged deeply in a particular culture may have political and institutional implications that go beyond


Monarchy & Democracy in the 21st Century

the observations of anthropologists. Restraint in expression as a positive political phenomenon may be simply contrasted with the forced restraint of expression in most democratic societies, which is considered a very negative value.

Siok Sian Pek-Dorji’s contribution is instructive about the role of the media in coherent change, in Bhutan’s case from a monarchy to democracy. What is upon to play in such a transition. On the one hand the media must exercise their democratic responsibility to develop healthy critical and analytical attitudes, and, on the other hand, the media must also exercise their historical and political responsibility to sustain the determined steadiness of the transition. In Bhutan, this is further complicated by the fact that to all intents and purposes the media themselves have come into existence and developed alongside, and in conjunction with, the new political system. While this complicates matters in the particular case, more broadly it suggests that the media cannot be considered a separate “system” over and against the political system but, quite the contrary, must be considered an integral part of systemic change without becoming the automatic instrument of the agents of change. If we consider the media themselves to be agents of change, then perhaps the support of the media by the monarchy can be understood in terms of cooperation toward a shared goal. If this is the case, it may be useful as also as potential critical allies of the other agents of change, functioning more as a gyroscope than as an instrument of ideology or an attack animal.

Sonam Kinga suggests the possibility, indeed perhaps the importance, of questioning many theoretical propositions about the transition to democracy that are essential to Western thought given the Bhutanese experience. This raises a reformulation simply by assigning Bhutan the status of singularity. He himself suggests this possibility in his conclusion. On the other hand, he also suggests that it may be the accepted theories themselves that require reformulation in light of Bhutan’s experience. It is not too extreme to suggest that political theory in the modern and contemporary world has been primarily Western political theory; international applicability may derive from forces other than the explanatory power of Western thought. This leaves us with one of several very limited possibilities. We may continue the present practice of exceptionalising experience that does not


Monarchy and Democracy

into account experiences other than those from which Western theory has been derived. We may abandon the attempt to arrive at a universal theory, at least at the present time. Sonam Kinga’s paper provides theoretical challenges as well as historical information.

The paper by Renata Dessallien provides an instructive contrast to the story told in arguments made by Sudhindra Sharma. In fact, the story of Bhutan’s political transition would seem to be almost precisely the opposite of Nepal’s. Dessallien well-placed leader (in contrast, perhaps, to a politician) as the crucially distinctive variable. Almost inevitably, or at least in some way logically, the discussion must lead to another question: what kind of “democracy” can be expected to develop from the kind of leadership that Dessallien describes, absent any real popular demand or any decisive eventual conjuncture, such as a rising against an oppressive ruler. It is already very clear that uprising and social violence against tyranny and repression are no guarantees of democratisation. What both Sonam Kinga and Renata Dessallien seem to insist upon is a theoretical account of the appearance and strategies of carefully guided leadership at the beginning of, and in the process of, conscious political evolution of a polity.

It is a commonplace in western democratic theory to suggest the important role of the bourgeois class in the demand for, and the process of, democratisation. Neither the Bhutanese nor the Nepalese examples discussed in some of these papers suggest that the bourgeois class played any role. The papers on Thailand, as well as other commentary do not suggest that the Thai monarchy’s role in that society rose from or even attended closely to the interests of the bourgeoisie. The same seems to be true in Japan. If this is the case, then the experience of political “democratic” change outside of the West may call into question the universality of the claims made, both theoretically and politically, for the central role of the bourgeoisie in the process of democratisation. And, if that is the case, this may also have implications for the claims made for the social and political consequences of one, as opposed to another, theory and politics of economic development.

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The remarks provided above on each of the papers included in this volume are, it goes without saying, very subjective. I can only hope that the authors will forgive me


Monarchy & Democracy in the 21st Century

if I have misrepresented their arguments or have neglected what they themselves think is important in them. However, they all seem to point to an exciting and important conclusion: the question of monarchy must move into the domain a of political and social theory and of political science, transcending anecdote and the kind of history writing that have characterised much of the discussion of monarchy in the last century. This book will have achieved its purpose if it both focuses the attention of scholars and theorists on Bhutan and, at the same time, serves as a

Mark Mancall is Professor Emeritus of History at Stanford University, California, USA.



The Relevance of Hegelian Monarchy:

Modern Dynasties, Political Crises, and the “Perfect Prince”

Mark R. Thompson

When thinking about monarchy in the early 21 st century one might be struck

by how irrelevant or anachronistic it is often considered - the former when it is constitutional and institutionalised, the latter when it is absolute and arbitrary. Scandanavian monarchies come to mind - see the contribution by Jorgen Ploen Elklit in this volume) or it makes the wrong kind of difference (e.g., the autocratic monarchies of the Middle East - see Michael Herbs book All in the Family: Absolutism and Democratic Prospects in the Middle Eastern Monarchies). Based on the dynastic principle monarchy might seem out of step with the meritocratic ideology that supposedly dominates the modern age. Although monarchy is clearly compatible with democracy if it is “constitutionalised” (e.g., the United Kingkom or Sweden),

a philosophical tension remains (most simply illustrated by the difference between

the words “citizen” and “subject”). So if monarchy is to be appropriately modern,

it must become irrelevant, not interfering with democratic legitimation by popular

rule. If it is more than that, it becomes a nuisance if not a positive danger to sociologist Weber famously foresaw replacing traditional legitimacy in the process of modernisation. On the other hand, both in the papers in this volume and elsewhere, Bhutanese commentators and observers of Bhutan mostly argue that without the strong leadership and continued guidance of the monarchy neither modernisation nor democratisation would have taken the relatively peaceful path they have there.

It is not easy to seek counsel on this issue from the realm of political theory as most

One of the few exceptions in this regard is Hegel who embraced constitutional


Monarchy & Democracy in the 21st Century

monarchy. 1 His defense of monarchy against the enlightenment onslaught (and its seeming political expression in the French Revolution) was robust: in the Philosophy of Right (1820/2001) he not only argued that a constitutional monarchy could be considered a “rational” form of government, it was actually the most rational form imaginable. He did not mean this just for Prussia (while making clear he opposed the restoration of absolute monarchy which conservative thinkers of his time proposed) but as a form of government generally. Hegel’s advocacy of monarchy (as this principle was embodied in his philosophy of history) has been an embarrassment to his often otherwise admiring commentators - Marx excepted, of course, who was not stinting in his scorn of Hegel on this issue (Marx, 1970/1843- 44). Most interpreters found it best to ignore these residues of the past that clung to Hegel’s shoes while he peered so presciently into the future.

But it is useful for our purposes here to take Hegel as a guide when looking into the relevance of the monarchy in the modern age, which I will do in the next section of this paper. He may well be a bit overenthusiastic at times (going so far as to advocate a monarch’s divine right to rule), but his views are a useful counterpoint to the skepticism that dominates most contemporary considerations

of monarchy. In particular he argues that hereditary succession is a crucial aspect of monarchy and that the role of the monarch should be strictly limited. I will is suddenly abolished. To understand how important something was it is helpful to consider what happens when it is gone. The next part examines the dynamics of monarchy’s underlining principle—hereditary succession. Here my approach is to ask how this precept has survived in politics in modern societies in the form of political dynasties and what importance it has. This, in turn, will lead me back

I will ask how monarchies have reacted in critical situations. Despite the large

variation between the various crises monarchies have faced in Asia and Africa, a fundamental distinction emerges: situations in which the monarch’s intervention

is seen as politically neutral and those in which the monarchy is perceived to have

acted in a partisan fashion. This will bring me back to Hegel’s key argument about monarchy: that the prince must stay above the political fray and, in fact, who the prince is should not actually matter at all (a very counterintuitive claim as the credibility, and even survival of many modern monarchies seems to rest on the

personality and political skill of the current king).


The Relevance of Hegelian Monarchy: Modern Dynasties, Political Crises, and the “Perfect Prince"

Hegel’s Defense of Constitutional Monarchy Hegel’s position on monarchy has been subject to much misunderstanding. Many commentators have reacted with incredulity that monarchy can be rationally interpreters have faced:

Is the institution of hereditary monarchy a merely given and natural foundation to government that betrays the Cartesian-Kantian revolution through a return to medieval forms grounded upon what lies beyond human

reason? Is Hegel betraying his own fundamental philosophical insights in

order to conform his argument to the historical reality given in his time?

the interest of defending Hegel, certain commentators have, against Hegel’s own expressed intentions, radically historicized his claim to the rationality of these institutions, without clarifying why constitutional monarchy appears unacceptable in our own times. Should this contemporary shift away from monarchy be understood as an historical refutation of the rationality Hegel sees in this form of government? Or, conversely, are our contemporary attitudes towards monarchy merely irrational prejudices from a Hegelian perspective? (2004)


Hegel’s argument in favor of retaining a constitutional monarchy, formulated in the wake of the French revolution, was reformist, not reactionary. He warned that the excesses of the French revolution threatened the very freedoms that it had initiated. But Hegel also distanced himself from conservative Prussian thinkers such as K.L. von Haller who wanted to free the crown from constitutional constraints and make it the sole source of law. (Hegel, in turn, was subject to harsh criticism by Prussian reactionaries.) Hegel had close connections with several Prussian reformers – Stein, Hardenberg, and Altenstein. In fact it was Altenstein who was instrumental in offering Hegel a professorship in Berlin because he found his reformist views attractive (Beiser 2005). Hegel rejected an absolute monarchy freed from legislative and executive restraints, envisioning instead a sovereign whose role was primarily of freedom he derived from the French Revolution, but saw in constitutional monarchy the best way in which it could be upheld and preserved (Ritter 1965). For Hegel, a political state is rational to the extent that it undergoes inner differentiation in accordance with the nature of concept (Begriff) of the state itself


Monarchy & Democracy in the 21st Century

(Diamond 2004). Monarchy represents the most rational form of the modern state because it, more than any other form of government, realises the ideal of freedom that underlies the concept, or idea, of the state (Beiser 2005). This claim disappeared; but this does not necessarily prove that monarchy is not adequately rational, only that this rationality is no longer as readily apparent as it was in an earlier age in which such state forms were more common (Yack).

A constitutional monarchy is a mixed form of government in the sense that

Montesquieu understood it as a “guarantee of public freedom” (1820/2001). It

is composed of the legislative, the executive, and the sovereign. The legislature

makes general laws and thus represents the principle of universality. The executive

laws applied particularly and thus embodies both the legislative and executive components as an individual (Beiser 2005). This leads Hegel to the metaphysical or systematic claim that as sovereign only the monarch can represent the concept/ idea of the state. Marx denounced Hegel on this point for “twisting” the “empirical fact” of the monarch representing national sovereignty “into a metaphysical axiom” (Marx 1943-44/1970). Frederick Beiser offers a more positive interpretation of Hegel’s position on the monarchy and the idea of the state:

While Hegel gives more weight to his systematic argument that any prudential consideration about the best form of government…, the fact remains that his systematic argument is best understood in the light of his claim that constitutional monarchy provides the best institutional safeguards for freedom. Since the idea of the state is based on freedom, and since constitutional monarchy realizes freedom more than any other form of government, it follows that constitutional monarchy is the highest realisation of the idea of the state. (2005)

Hegel argued that constitutional monarchy evolved through two historical steps and was based on the hereditary principle. He believed human history to be a series of stepping-stones that led to the gradual realis historical stage of constitutional monarchy involved citizens transferring their individual natural wills to the monarch to escape the hazards and uncertainties of the divided sovereignty characteristic of the Middle Ages and the early Renaissance


The Relevance of Hegelian Monarchy: Modern Dynasties, Political Crises, and the “Perfect Prince"

period. As one person, the monarch is an indivisible power that better represents sovereignty than a legislature that can be divided against itself (Diamond 2004). by contract, who can hold him responsible for his actions. Hegel even adds to the monarchy’s exalted status by suggesting it possesses a divine right to rule (Beiser 2005). Yet such transcendental speculation does not lead Hegel to claim that the monarch has, or deserves, absolute power.

For after sovereignty had been gathered into the hands of an absolute monarch, the next stage in Hegel’s account of the evolution of the state was the self- differentiation of the political system. The granting of rights to the particular spheres of civil society, on the one hand, and the division of powers between the executive and legislative, on the other, led to an enormous increase in individual freedom. This dual process of increasing personal security and granting civil rights created a strong sense of obligation by the citizenry towards their enlightened sovereign. This, in turn, helped stabilise human liberty through a longstanding institution, something which the French Revolution with its radical republicanism failed to accomplish. 2

Hegel had a holistic view of the state. In the state, each part exists for the whole and the whole exists for the part. Thus, the individual is both means and ends for the state. This is how Hegel is able to derive both individualist and collectivist conclusions about the state: while the individual’s rights must be upheld by the state, the individual must devote himself to affairs of the state. 3 Hegel argued that the Greeks and the Romans did not know the Christian principle of subjectivity, the idea of the freedom of the individual. They propagated only collective, political freedom involving the proper action of citizens acting according to laws they had themselves created. Only the advent of Christianity led to a higher understanding of the importance of individual freedom. (But Hegel also criticised those Christian



Monarchy & Democracy in the 21st Century

theologians who placed the highest good in other-worldly salvation, not in the realization of human freedom in the world.)

The monarchy protects individual interest from clashing with the public good in the ideal constitutional state or, as it were, Christian-inspired liberty with the Greek idea of the polis. For the monarch symbolises the universal will of the sovereign state against the particular wills of individuals operating within civil society. A well functioning state must not allow particular wills to become ends in themselves. State power must be predominant, precluding the potential chaos of civil society. The monarch proclaims the decisions of the state, showing that their necessarily arbitrary character has its logic in the universal claims of the state. As Diamond writes, “the ‘majesty of the monarch’ lies in the free asserting of ‘I will’ as an

This linear historical process which Hegel describes may seem paradoxical because, like Montesquieu, Hegel believed that the best constitution for a nation derived He writes that “every nation has a constitution appropriate to it and suitable to it” (Hegel 1830/2001). 4 Hegel argues that monarchy is particularly well equipped to embody national character and constitutional continuity as it has often been linked to a country’s history over generations. Hegel’s position also allows the conclusion that because it well represents the nation and its culture, the monarchy is best able to steer a nation through crisis (Diamond 2004). Beiser summarises Hegel’s position this way:

Ultimately, the monarch plays essentially a formal role in the Hegelian state, serving as the “highest instance of formal decision.” Yet this symbolic unity, sovereignty, and culture of the people. (2005)

But this culturalist perspective does not lead Hegel to depart from his claim about the universal rationality of monarchy. Hegel presumes an inner unity of world


The Relevance of Hegelian Monarchy: Modern Dynasties, Political Crises, and the “Perfect Prince"

history in which there are countries/cultural regions lower down in the civilisation hierarchy as opposed to those which have achieved a higher stage. 5 For Hegel, not just Prussia alone has reached this point of historical development (Beiser 2005). It had become widespread in Western Europe and was part of a necessary historical transformation because it best guaranteed freedom - Hegel’s teleological endpoint of the development of the state. 6

Monarchy must be based on hereditary succession, Hegel argues. 7 This means, of course, that who succeeds as king is arbitrary, a kind of genetic lottery. The new monarch may or may not be virtuous, enlightened or not. But given the legislative and executive constraints on the monarchy, it does not really matter who the monarch is. Diamond writes:

The natural immediacy of succession through primogeniture precludes as monarch, dictating that the monarch will come from this certain position in this particular family. From the perspective of the “‘understanding,” this seems to root irrationality in the very apex of the state…[Hegel] argues that in a fully evolved constitutional state, the particularity of the monarch, which admittedly is wholly contingent, should play no role in determining the general will, since the legislative and executive powers together will propose laws and decisions which require nothing but the formal approval of the monarch to enact them. The monarch in this state acts only in concord with the other two powers, and the laws and their application are brought into existence not through the monarch’s uninformed and arbitrary whim, but only after having passed through the entire political process. (2004)


Monarchy & Democracy in the 21st Century

The hereditary succession places the monarch above an elite faction. The principle of primogenitor insures for Hegel that who becomes king will be depoliticised, or, in his words, that “all fractious disputes are avoided” (a highly dubious interpretation of the history of monarchies!). Hegel concludes with the simple claim that the “principle of state must be such that the private character of its occupant [i.e., the sole function of monarchy is to provide the state with agency, making the personal traits of the monarch irrelevant (Diamond 2005). The personality of the monarch monarchy. Monarchs must follow the advice of his ministers, and thus cannot be held accountable for their actions. Hegel thus writes of the monarchy in a crucial passage in the Philosophy of Right:

In a completely organised state, it is only a question of the culminating point of formal decision…he has only to say “yes” and dot the “i”…In a well organised monarchy, the objective aspect belongs to the law alone, and the monarch’s part is merely to set to the law the subjective “I will.”


When Monarchy is Abolished In his famous study of interwar democracies in Political Man the sociologist Seymour Martin Lipset pointed to the “absurd fact” that those countries which had retained constitutional monarchies had more stable democratic orders than those which had become republics (1959). He argued that the deep-seated social and political changes linked to industrialisation had made the institution of the monarchy largely irrelevant. But preserving the monarchy did help retain the loyalty of those groups that felt they were losers in modernisation: the old aristocracy, traditionalists, clerics, and peasants. The continued existence of the monarchy showed that the world they once knew was not entirely lost and that the new world could gradually be adapted to. He cited the examples of Britain, Scandanavia, the Lowland countries, Australia, New Zealand and Canada. On the other hand, France, Germany, and Austria had been plagued by social instability and political unrest since the abolition of the monarchy.

The experience of the Chinese (1911), Russian (1917), and German (1918-19) Revolutions suggest that the abolition of the monarchy leads to a common outcome: a massive legitimation crisis and a radical decline in human freedom.


The Relevance of Hegelian Monarchy: Modern Dynasties, Political Crises, and the “Perfect Prince"

What Peter Berger has termed the “sacred canopy” is torn away (1967). A metaphysical vacuum emerges. After all, the monarchy had been the focal point of cultural continuity involving a sacral system connecting heaven and earth. In his famous study of Nazism, Eric Voegelin argued secularisation led to the rise of “political religions” (1938/2000). With the transcendence of traditional religion destroyed, revolutionaries, left and right, attempted to create heaven on earth by deifying a concept such as “class” or “race”. The terror of the French revolution, the rise of Maoism in China, Stalinism in Russia/the Soviet Union, and Nazism in Germany make Voegelin’s argument seem plausible in these three post- revolutionary, republican contexts.

This is not, of course, to suggest, that the abolition of monarchy is a monocausal explanation for the rise of totalitarian political religions, nor are they necessarily linked. Rather, the suggestion here is that the abrupt abolition of monarchy meaning can lead to rapid radicalisation, particularly if other aggravating factors (economic crises, lost wars, political turmoil, etc.) intervene. It is interesting to (but ultimately unsuccessfully, despite several attempts in France) restored. Even of monarchy, as Napoleon’s coronation as emperor demonstrates. In Germany the presidency of Paul von Hindenburg, the famous World War I general and Ersatzmonarchie ("monarchical substitute"). Mao has been compared with traditional Chinese emperors (Salisbury 1992). More generally the modern institution of the presidency has been viewed as a substitute for the monarchy. The strong French presidency under de Gaulle and more recently the revived Russian presidency under Putin became political spearheads for resurgent states. In both the French and the Russian cases, the rise of a powerful presidency seemed to put an end to a long period of turbulence (in France a period of about 150 years!) that began with the abolition of the monarchy.

All of this seems to provide support for Hegel’s position. Monarchy represents political continuity; its abolition discontinuity. The political disruption that Hegel had seen in the French revolution was repeated in the Chinese, Russian, and German revolutions, for example. Jacobian excesses plagued all “totalitarian democratic” revolutions proclaimed in the name of freedom but ultimately undermined it by


Monarchy & Democracy in the 21st Century

destroying the institutions that could protect it (Talmon 1952/1970). Constitutional monarchies in Europe proved one of the most effective guarantees of individual freedoms and an effectively functioning polity as Hegel would have expected and Lipset’s observation suggests. Thus constitutional monarchies do indeed seem to help realise the “idea of the state” in terms of the preservation of human freedom in Hegel’s terms.

The Continued Relevance of Dynasticism in the Modern World In the Weberian tradition, dynastic rule is seen as the mark of traditional rule par excellence. One rules not because one has, capable but because one happens, by chance, to be born in the right family. In the discussion of regime types, neo-Weberian scholars have developed the notion of (neo-) “sultanism” - an extreme form of personalistic rule based on dynasticism (Chehabi and Linz 1998). Drawing on Weber’s (historically misleading) analogy between extremely arbitrary traditional rule and “sultanism” in the Ottoman empire, the argument is that in modern times political rule can degenerate from institutionalised government to arbitrary rule based largely on the will of one person. Lacking a strong party or support in the military, this “neo-Sultan” turns to his family and, in particular, his son or wife, to preserve his grip on power. The Somozas in Nicaragua (Anastasio Somoza Garcia, Luis Somoza Debayle, and Anastasio Somoza Debayle), “Papa” and “Baby Doc” (Francois and Jean-Claude Duvalier) in Haiti, the Castros (Fidel and Raul), the Kims in North Korea (Kim Il-sung, Kim Jong-il, and his supposedly annointed son-successor, Kim Jong- un), the Pahlavi dynasty in Iran (Reza Shah Pahlavi and his son Mohammad), the Ceausescu clan in Romania (Nicolae, his wife Elena and his son Nicu) in Romania, and the “conjugal dictatorship” in the Philippines (Ferdinand E. Marcos with his wife Imelda) are examples of this phenomenon. 8 Sultanistic rule is despotic rule. Regime institutionalisation is undermined by the personality cult of the ruler which does not serve an ideology but only family interests. Even the traditionalist- style legitimacy some of these rulers seek (such as the Shahs in Iran) turns out to be little more than a cover for personal rulership, neither constraining their rule in any meaningful way nor raising their standing in the eyes of the public (who mostly come to see them as usurpers).


The Relevance of Hegelian Monarchy: Modern Dynasties, Political Crises, and the “Perfect Prince"

This view is close to Hegel’s criticism of absolute monarchy. Having gathered state power in the monarchy, the next historical “stage” is “missed” because instead of dividing power with the executive and legislative and granting rights to the people, the ruler consolidates all power in his own person to be exercised entirely at his own discretion. “Neo-sultanism” shows the dangers of absolute dynasticism.

Neo-sultanistic rule tends to arise in the midst of a crisis of sovereignty (Chehabi and Linz 1998), roughly parallel to Hegel’s argument about divided sovereignty in the Middle Ages. Kim Il-sung took power in a divided Korea; Nicolae Ceasusescu came to predominance in Soviet-dominated Eastern Europe, making a sharp break with the Soviets with his condemnation of the invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968; Fidel Castro seized power as Cuba was still under the sway of U.S. (neo-) imperialism. These leaders often quite successfully strengthened their countries’ sovereignty and national pride, building their cults of personality around nationalism. But lacking constitutional constraint, the behavior of these dynasts became increasingly arbitrary. What begins to matter most in the state is the character of the ruler. Among sultanistic rulers, the personality of the prince is all important, which makes it, in the Hegelian framework, a degenerate state form.

More benign forms of hereditary rule also exist in the modern world. An under- reported and analysed issue in U.S. politics is the role of dynasties in politics there. While the Bush and Kennedy (and the would-be Clinton) presidential dynasties are well known, these tend to be treated as uninteresting exceptions (Phillips 2004). In fact, dynasticism is widespread in U.S. politics. Almost every U.S. state has powerful local dynasties (one famous example is the dynasty established by Huey Long in Louisana). The U.S. Senate has a long tradition of dynasties. It is not uncommon for wives to follow their deceased husbands into senate positions, congressional seats, or governorships (Kincaid 1978). One key to understanding dynasties in the U.S. is the absence of strongly institutionalised political parties. Without them, political families have the advantage both of a “brand name” and extensive political networks which prove decisive in “weak” parties that rely largely upon of dynasties with certain social-cultural traditions (the social liberalism of the Kennedys, for example, which was strongly emphasised in eulogies for Ted Kennedy in August 2009).

As is well known, dynasties are also widespread in Japanese politics (Curtis 2000 and Itoh 2003). The most recent elections in Japan in August 2009 pitted two scions of


Monarchy & Democracy in the 21st Century

political dynasties against one another. The grandfathers of Yukio Hatoyama, who led his opposition Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) to victory, and of Taro Aso, the defeated prime minister and leader of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), had fought over the founding of the LDP in 1955, switching off in that year as prime ministers. In Japanese politics, sons often succeed their fathers as MPs in the National Diet in order to keep the political faction that had backed the father together. Even the reformist former prime minister Junichiro Koizumi broke with the Diet. He won despite massive LDP losses (“Railing Against” 2009). Without a groups, giving other major factions a competitive advantage. This corresponds to Hegel’s point that hereditary succession helps to avoid factionalism.

But the modern example of dynasticism that I think most clearly illustrates Hegel’s argument about the importance of the hereditary principle is that of dynastic female leaders in Asia (Thompson 2004). In eight Asian countries female leaders have followed their fathers or husbands as national leaders or as heads of the opposition (Bangladesh, Burma/Myanmar, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan, the Philippines, Sri Lanka). But the most relevant cases of dynastic female leadership for our purposes here are those in which female leaders represent the national identity in succession to their state founding fathers (Aung San Suu Kyi and her father Aung San, the Gandhi women and Nehru, Megawati and Sukarno). This is close to Hegel’s point about hereditary monarchy symbolising national culture. These independence leaders in Asia embodied the nation-state, a quality which they passed on to their daughters. As the daughters (or wives) of nation founders, female leaders’ acquired what can be termed “inherited charisma”. Weber understood charisma as a form of authority that rests on leaders’ exceptional (außeralltäglich) qualities, extraordinary insights, heroic character, and profound sanctity, giving them superhuman or even supernatural powers. Weber adds that will seek a mechanism that enables charismatic rule to be extended to the next search (e.g., the choice of the new Dalai Lama) or an institutional election (e.g., the choice of a Pope) (Weber 1948/1922). But the claim that charisma is inheritable is also common. Because they are viewed from a gendered perspective, it is not expected that female leaders compete in terms of personal qualities with their male predecessor. Although some female leaders are/were undoubtedly outgoing


The Relevance of Hegelian Monarchy: Modern Dynasties, Political Crises, and the “Perfect Prince"

and capable (Indira Gandhi and Aung San Suu Kyi come to mind), others are noteworthy for their retiring, even shy public natures. In Indonesia Megawati Sukarnoputri’s reticence is legendary – she often refuses to say anything at all about key issues (Ricarda Gerlach in Derichs and Thompson, forthcoming, argues that for Megawati “silence is golden”). The personality of the “princess” in this case is not crucial, rather it is her dynastic role that is central.

What matters is less their personal qualities, than the fathers or husbands they represent, who in turn symbolise (one version of) national identity. When voting for one of the Gandhi women (or men, including the martyred Rajiv), Indians pay tribute to Nehru’s vision of a secular India. A similar argument can be made about popular support in Burma/Myanmar for Aung San Suu Kyi as a continuation of the respect shown toward her father Aung San’s vision for a civilian run and a multicultural Burma, opposing the current military and Burman-centric rule of the generals. Interestingly in this regard, the divisiveness in recent Bangladesh politics can largely contributed to the “duelling ladies”, Sheikh Hasina Wajed and Khaleda Zia, who have alternated as prime minister since 1991 (excepting the brief military coup of 2007 largely provoked by their feuding). These two women not only represent men who were political rivals (Sheikh Hasina accuses Khaleda Zia’s husband, Ziaur Rahman, of masterminding the assassination of her father, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, in order to seize power for himself) but also competing notions of what kind of nation Bangladesh should be. For Sheik Hasina, upholding her father’s legacy as the country’s “founding father”, it is a Bengali-based nationalism. Khaleda Zia, on the other hand, follows her assassinated husband’s call for the Islamisation of Bangladesh as the basis of a stronger national identity (Ricarda Gerlach, “Female Leadership and Dueling Dynasties in Bangladesh” in Derichs and Thompson, forthcoming).

Except Indira Gandhi all recent dynastic female leaders in Asia have been the widows, wives, or daughters of “martyred” male leaders who were assassinated, executed, or imprisoned by non-democratic regimes or their political opponents. After their assassination (Mujib and Zia of Bangladesh, Aung San of Burma, of Pakistan) or arrest (Sukarno of Indonesia, who died under house arrest and Anwar Ibrahim of Malaysia, who has since been released and has now returned to politics) became heroes, their jail cells or graves ritual pilgrimage sites. This “martyrdom” of male politicians in these Asian countries became the chief moral resource with which the opposition could mobilise support against a dictatorship,


Monarchy & Democracy in the 21st Century

leading in some cases to immediate opposition mobilisation (in the Philippines after the Aquino assassination and in Malaysia after Anwar Ibrahim’s arrest) or to later protests in which their legacy was invoked.

Despite the political advantages of martyrdom, the death or imprisonment of an opposition leader posed grave dangers to his or her family’s political interests. Like sons succeeding their fathers as MPs in Japan, hereditary succession held personalistic parties/factions once held together by the martyred leader’s charisma and authority faced damaging internal splits during subsequent power struggles. Moreover there were fears that other parties or factions might aspire to opposition leadership, taking advantage of protests for their own ends. A successor was sought from within the martyr’s family to preserve unity and restore the group’s strength. successors instead? In part leadership was thrust upon them because males were unable, unwilling or unsuited to assume leadership of the family-based faction.

However women were chosen to lead simply for want of male relatives. For one thing, they seemed less threatening to other would-be faction leaders, making it easier for potential rivals to unite behind them. Also, it was thought that, despite assuming the dynastic mantle, women would leave real control to male party leaders. Arriving in London exile in 1984, Benazir Bhutto was chosen as the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) leader by the party “uncles” because “they assumed she would serve primarily as a symbol.” 9 In the Philippines, a divided opposition ultimately agreed on Cory Aquino as its presidential candidate. Her chief rival, Salvador Laurel, him. In Malaysia, Wan Azizah’s gender and political inexperience seemed to be the along religious and ethnic lines. Female relations of martyred male politicians were best able to unite political factions because their leadership was seen as largely symbolic.

Still we must ask why women were considered for leadership succession at all given the highly patriarchal character of these societies. Several female leaders faced openly paternalist/religious objections to their rule. For example key Muslim politicians in both Indonesia and Pakistan protested strongly against Megawati and


The Relevance of Hegelian Monarchy: Modern Dynasties, Political Crises, and the “Perfect Prince"

Benazir Bhutto becoming president or prime minister, respectively, claiming this to be incompatible with Islam. Bhutto died at the hands of Islamist terrorists. Many male rivals (and sometimes even the female leaders’ husbands! 10 ) could not come to terms with a woman running the country which, as the ideology of patriarchy claimed, was a man’s job.

One reason women could be chosen as leaders despite such paternalism is their high social standing. Kinship trumped gender. In the case of Bangladesh, Najma

Chowdhury has suggested that “the emergence of Sheikh Hasina and Khaleda Zia in political leadership roles represents a paradox in a patriarchal culture that is best explained by their kinship linkages to male authority” (Chowdhury 1994). The exceptional political situation created by martyrdom made it more tolerable to break with traditional female roles. As Benazir Bhutto wrote about her anti-Zia

campaigns: “There was no resistance to me

as a woman, even in these where

of my family, of all of us, had risen above the barrier of gender” (Bhutto 1989).

But more important still, in the context of political crisis following the martyrdom of an opposition politician, the gendered female role suddenly became a distinct political advantage. In societies where women were traditionally seen as apolitical, dynastic female leaders were perceived as standing above the political fray. They were accidental politicians, reluctantly joining the political arena for a great cause, not male machiavellis engaged in pursuing their own interests. Chosen because of their blood or marriage ties to martyred leaders, they were less likely to be thought of as representing a particular political faction or group. Often portraying themselves as “simple housewives” to emphasize their reluctance to take up the heavy duty of political responsibility, they were cast as (female) “saints” against (male) “sinners”, as was the case between Corazon C. Aquino and Ferdinand E. Marcos in the Philippines (Derichs and Thompson, forthcoming).

Monarchy in the Midst of Crisis: Nepal, Lesotho, and Thailand Given Hegel’s historicist argument about monarchy embodying the state and sanctifying national culture, it is not surprising that monarchal institutions appear to help their countryies cope with political crises centered around national identity.



Monarchy & Democracy in the 21st Century

Flemings and Walloons have long ago resulted in the break-up of that state had not the monarchy provided the symbolic glue that somehow manages to keep this political entity together? 11 As sketched above, Hegel believed the monarchy could stabilise the constitutional system as long as it remained above the fray of political fashion.

Clearly the abolition of the Nepalese monarchy is the consequence of a lost political battle (see the chapters in this volume by Kunda Mani Dixit and Sudhindra Sharma). In 2005 King Gyanendra assumed authoritarian powers in the name of had been shaken by the assassination of King Birendra and eight other members of the royal family in 2001 by Crown Prince Dipendra who then killed himself). Maoist gains and anti-monarchy protests led to free elections and a government coalition which abolished its chief enemy, the monarchy. In Nepal the inverse of “Hegel’s law” seems to have been in force: a monarch who does not stay above the fray can fall victim to it.

A similar narrative can be found in the little known experience of the Kingdom of Lesotho. One observer writes:

Thanks to Lesotho’s founding father, King Moshoeshoe, the kingdom can look back on almost 200 years of being a nation. Unlike most African countries, the nation building process was achieved a long time ago as the southern Basotho people rallied [to] the kings for protection from Boer and Zulu aggressions from the surrounding lowlands. Moshoeshoe and his successors maintained independence from white-ruled South Africa through military power and diplomatic

wisdom, forming a protectorate under direct protection from London. Until independence in 1965, the King - or the paramount chief as he was called during British rule - was pretty much the uniting symbol of Lesotho.



The Relevance of Hegelian Monarchy: Modern Dynasties, Political Crises, and the “Perfect Prince"

With the 1966 constitution, that made the paramount chief a king, power was given to elected politicians and Lesotho was made a constitutional monarchy…After independence came…political turbulence, with military rule in the 1970s and ‘80s. In the mid-1980s, the military even installed King Moshoeshoe II, King Letsie’s father, as the head of the executive in a popular move. Popularity did not last long, however, and calls for democracy led to another coup in 1990, deposing the King. (Hennig 2003)

In 1994 the so-called “King’s Coup” overthrew the democratically elected government of Ntsu Mokhehle, bringing Moshoeshoe back to power. This occurred after he had been dethroned twice in the past (1970 and 1990) because openly intervened. Subsequent political manoeuverings led to his reinstatement, the last time by his son Letsie III. Only after Moshoeshoe died in a car crash in 1995 did Letsie managed to return the monarchy more or less back to its envisioned constitutional form. He did not intervene during a renewed outbreak of political stability and outside intervention in 1998, even refusing widespread demands to mediate (the unrest subsided, but there was renewed violence against the government in 2008 and 2009). Having suffered nearly fatal damage through politicisation, the monarchy appears to have morphed to an extremely apolitical form. Lesotho’s monarchy appears to have returned to its “Hegelian” role as a form of self-protection.

The most striking example of a monarchy in the midst of a political crisis at the time of this writing is in Thailand (see the contributions of Kavi Chongkittavorn and Suchit Bunbongkarn in this volume). The current Thai monarchy has long presented itself (and is praised by its “network” supporters) as a politically neutral institution that has only intervened as a last resort during national crises (McCargo 2005 and 2007). King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s interventions in 1973 and 1992 that put a halt to the shooting of largely peaceful protestors by the military and paved the way for democratisation were seen as great successes in this regard. More recent accounts, however, have painted a much darker picture (most controversially, Paul Handley’s unauthorised biography of 2006). Critics like Handley argue that the Thai monarch’s interventions have been much more extensive than is commonly acknowledged in polite company in Thailand. Such interventions, it has been suggested, have not just been against military bloodshed but also on the side of military coups (in 1976 and most recently in 2006 which


Monarchy & Democracy in the 21st Century

overthrow the Thaksin government) (Hewison 2008). Defenders of the monarchy dismiss such charges. They have increasingly resorted to charges of lèse-majesté to silence critics. 12 Surveillance of “malicious” comments about the monarchy, particularly on the internet, has risen sharply recently. 13 My aim here is not to judge of the relative merits of these positions. It is only to point out that the perception Thailand claiming to act in its name and defense) undermines its Hegelian “crisis management capabilities.”

Importantly in this regard, the issue of succession is one of the most widely gossiped about (because it cannot be openly discussed) issues in Thai politics the limits of the undoubted respect and admiration that the vast majority of Thais show toward the current (ailing) King. His “success” as a monarch is very much tied up with his own personality. The “twilight problem” of succession arises because the personality of the monarchy seems to matter so much in Thailand.

Conclusion Hegel’s defense of monarchy, found quirky by many a critic, sheds much light on the nature of constitutional monarchy today. It represents institutional continuity, symbolises national culture, and embodies the unity of the state, enabling it to help guarantee human freedom, which for Hegel is the ultimate idea of a state. Lipset’s contrast to the instability of their revolutionary, republican counterparts - adds empirical credence to Hegel’s philosophical claim. The French, Chinese, Russian, and German Revolutions show how disastrous an abrupt shift away from monarchy can be for preserving freedom.

12 the!monarchy! from!criticism,!given!that!in!a!constitutional! system!the!monarch!is!only!carrying! any!criticism!of!it!based!on!the!premise!that!it!is!apolitical!!For!a!thoughtful!discussion!see!both! lèse%majesté!cases!


The Relevance of Hegelian Monarchy: Modern Dynasties, Political Crises, and the “Perfect Prince"

The example of other modern dynasties supports the Hegelian argument about succession is genetically preordained and not open to political competition, the new leader can better avoid partisanship. Dynastic female leaders, like the sons of many Japanese MPs, were chosen as successors because family or marriage ties maintained consensus among in their political faction. Dynastic ties (as well as their perceived traditional gender roles) also seemed to elevate them above normal “dirty politics.” In addition, their “inherited charisma” enabled them to symbolise their father or husband’s national project.

Monarchies are best able to stand “above the fray”, of course, when they are not themselves actively involved in it. Where a monarch does intervene (unsuccessfully), such as recently occurred in Nepal, he or she can be deposed. In Lesotho a legacy of courtly intervention (and dethronement) has led the monarchy to take a radically apolitical stance. In Thailand perceptions of growing royal intervention have weakened the institution, with the timing being particularly problematic (but surely not unrelated to) the fragility of the ageing king.

Hegel considers it not at all paradoxical to argue that the “perfect prince” must not be perfect at all. Perfection is not a matter of the person who happens to be established – with its constitutional powers clearly delimited – then it can perform its function as the sacred embodiment of the state, symbol of the nation, and

Mark R. Thompson is Professor of Political Science at Erlangen Nuremberg University, Germany.


Avineri, Shlomo. Hegel’s Theory of the Modern State. London: Cambridge UP, 1972. Print. Beiser, Frederick C. Hegel. New York: Routledge, 2005. Print. Berger, Peter L. The Sacred Canopy; Elements of a Sociological Theory of Religion. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1967. Print. Bhutto, Benazir. Daughter of Destiny: an Autobiography. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1989. Print. Chehabi, H. E., and Juan J. Linz. Sultanistic Regimes. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1998. Print.


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Chowdhury, Najma. “Bangladesh: Gender Issues and Politics in a Patriarchy.” Ed. Barbara J. Nelson and Najma Chowdhury. Women and Politics Worldwide. New Haven: Yale UP, 1994. Print. Curtis, Gerald L. The Logic of Japanese Politics: Leaders, Institutions, and the Limits of Change. New York: Columbia UP, 1999. Print. Datta-Ray, S.K. “For Some in Asia, It’s Hard to Stand by Their Women.” International Herald Tribune [New York City] 3 Aug. 2001: 7. Print. Derichs, Claudia, and Mark R. Thompson, eds. Martyrs’ Widows and Dynasties’ Daughters: Dynastic Female Leaders in Asia. (Forthcoming). Print. Diamond, Eli. “Hegel’s Defence of Constitutional Monarchy and Its Relevance within the Post-National State.” Animus 9 (2004). Web. Handley, Paul M. The King Never Smiles: a Biography of Thailand’s Bhumibol Adulyadej. New Haven: Yale UP, 2006. Print. Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich, and S. W. Dyde. Philosophy of Right. Kitchener, Ont.: Batoche, 2001. Print. Hennig, Rainer Chr. “Lesotho’s Royal House - A World Apart.” Afrol News. 2 Apr. 2009. Web. Herb, Michael. All in the Family: Absolutism, Revolution, and Democracy in the Middle Eastern Monarchies. Albany: State University of New York, 1999. Print. Hewison, Kevin. “Book Review: The Book, the King, and the Coup.” Rev. of The King Never Smiles: A Biography of Thailand’s Bhumibol Adulyadej. Journal of Contemporary Asia Feb. 2006: 190-211. Print. Itoh, Mayumi. The Hatoyama Dynasty: Japanese Political Leadership through the Generations. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003. Print. Kincaid, Diane D. “Over His Dead Body: A Postive Perspective on Widows in the U.S. Congress.” Western Political Quarterly 31 (1978): 96-104. Print. Lee, Eun-Jeung. “Anti-Europte: Paradigm Changes in the Reception of Confucianism in Germany Since the Early Enlightenment.” 2009. MS. (Forthcoming). Lee, Eun-Jeung. “Anti-Europte: Paradigm Changes in the Reception of Confucianism in Germany Since the Early Enlightenment.” MS. (Forthcoming). Levin, Michael, and Howard Williams. “Inherited Power and Popular Representation:

A Tension in Hegel’s Political Theory.” Political Studies XXXV (1987): 105- 15. Print. Lipset, Seymour Martin. Political Man; the Social Bases of Politics. Garden City, N.Y.:

Doubleday, 1960. Print. LM Watch. Web. 03 June 2010. <http://lmwatch.blogspot.com>. Marx, Karl, and Annette Jolin. Critique of Hegel’s “Philosophy of Right” / Transl. from the German by Annette Jolin and Joseph O’Malley ; Ed. with an Introduction Andnotes by Joseph O’Malley. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ., 1977. Marxists


The Relevance of Hegelian Monarchy: Modern Dynasties, Political Crises, and the “Perfect Prince"

Internet Archive. Web. 7 Sept. 2009. McCargo, Duncan. “A Hollow Crown.” New Left Review Jan/Feb (2007): 135-44. Print. McCargo, Duncan. “Network Monarchy and Legitimacy Crises in Thailand.” Review 18.4 (2005): 499-519. Print. Mijares, Primitivo. The Conjugal Dictatorship of Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos I. San Francisco: Union Square Publications, 1976. Print. Montesano, Michael. “Contextualizing the Pattaya Summit Debacle: Four April Days, Four Thai Pathologies.” Contemporary Southeast Asia 31.2 (2009): 217- 48. Print. Phillips, Kevin. American Dynasty: Aristocracy, Fortune, and the Politics of Deceit in the House of Bush. New York: Viking, 2004. Print. “Railing Against the Wrong Enemy.” The Economist 22 Aug. 2009: 23. Print. Ritter, Joachim. Hegel Und Die Französische Revolution. [Frankfurt Am Main]:

Suhrkamp, 1965. Print. Salisbury, Harrison E. The New Emperors: China in the Era of Mao and Deng. Boston:

Little, Brown, 1992. Print. Streckfuss, David. Defamation and Social Memory in Thailand. London: Routledge, 2007. Print. Talmon, J. L. The Origins of Totalitarian Democracy. New York: Norton, 1970. Print. Thai Netizen Network. On the Cases Related to Computer-Related Crime Act. Thai Netizen Network. 26 May 2009. Web. Thompson, Mark R. Democratic Revolutions: Asia and Eastern Europe. London:

Routledge, 2004. Print. Voegelin, Eric, and Manfred Henningsen. The Collected Works of Eric Voegelin. Columbia (Mo.): University of Missouri, 2000. Print. Weber, Max, Hans Heinrich Gerth, and C. Wright Mills. From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology. New York: Oxford UP, 1958. Print. Yack, Bernard. “The Rationality of Hegel’s Concept of Monarchy.” American Political Science Review 74 (1980): 709-20. Print.



The Limits of Constitutional Monarchy in Scandinavia: The Road to Survival of Monarchies?

Jørgen Elklit & Birgitta Wistrand

In the three Nordic countries (Denmark, Norway, and Sweden), where the

monarchies still thrive, all three Heads of State have reached – or will soon reach

– their seventies. But there are no signs of shifts on the thrones, which would have

been the case if it were in Bhutan where the King has to resign at the age of 65. In the Nordic countries, however, it will continue to be business as usual, as there is no age limit for monarchs – and no discussion about that particular issue.

Presently Sweden’s Crown Princess, Victoria, is taking steps – even if slowly – towards her future role as Head of State, but currently all focus is on her long- awaited marriage next June to a work-out instructor, Daniel Westling, a man of common background. In Norway, Haakon, King Harald´s son, has already married a woman from a common background which one only rarely sees in Crown Princesses; and his colleague, Crown Prince Frederik of Denmark, married

a woman of foreign origin and also a commoner. These marriages all had to be

approved by the Head of State, i.e., the mother or the father. As so often is the case, conditions for males are less restricted than for females. But the situation changes once you are in power, a topic to which we shall return below.

The heirs and heiresses are all in their late thirties/early forties and authority obviously lies with their parents, at least in regards to the Monarchs’ decision on when to step down from the throne, i.e., to entrust the Crown Prince or princess with the responsibility of carrying the torch forward – if stepping down is being seriously considered at all. Evidently the current Monarchs consider the position worth the price – or is it purely because of their sense of responsibility – that they apparently want to continue to endure their restricted and controlled lives?

Can one now foresee any obstacles for the heirs to the thrones, legally or politically, when they eventually take on their duties in their respective “bicycle monarchies”


The Limits of Constitutional Monarchy in Scandinavia: The Road to Survival of Monarchies?

using Mark R. Thompson’s term. Are citizens of the three Scandinavian countries actually prepared to accept these increasingly ordinary and normal couples as important symbols in and representatives for their countries?

We have found little or no discussion on the subject. In fact, the question of the monarchy’s raison d´être is not really a salient topic in public discourse in and the criticism never seriously touches the present dynasties or their functions. Instead, it dwells mostly on a theoretical level, with no substantial demands for change.

Nor are the functions or status of monarchy a vital research topic in political The interrelations between media and monarchy have recently evoked some interest, especially when it is understood that both institutions see themselves as – and are – intertwined and interdependent.

The Stabilising Effects of Monarchies If one wants to understand this peculiar state of affairs, one possibility is to start by looking at what political science has to say about countries with a Monarch as head of state. The Dutch-American political scientist Arend Lijphart reminds us that it is surprising that so many democracies are or have been monarchies, as it is a constitutional form that appears to be less democratic than a republican government with an elected president (140).

Lijphart explains this state of affairs by the fact that they are constitutional monarchies, i.e., the power of the Monarch is severely limited (by the constitution). He then goes on to quote Rose and Kavanagh: “Monarchs have remained in power where the reigning family has been willing to withdraw from a politically active role. Reciprocally, monarchies have fallen when the monarch has sought to continue to assert political power” (568). Nepal here becomes an interesting case to think of, as the Royal House in Nepal never really appreciated the 1991-constitution and the thinking behind it; the consequences were grave. It appears, however, that the above formulation by Rose and Kavanagh could be further elaborated. It is not only the withdrawal from a politically active role, which has allowed some Monarchs to remain in power, but also their genuine (or perceived) acceptance and support of democratic development, in some cases probably amounting to a sense of having a very real responsibility for the country and its future development.


Monarchy & Democracy in the 21st Century

To this emphasis on the time perspective one can add differences in personal work with – and were complicated personalities – while others have been just the right person at the right place at the right point in time, which has therefore contributed substantially to the position (and chances of survival) of the monarchy in the country in question. This observation obviously has validity also outside Scandinavian countries, and outside Europe.

In his study of inter-war democracies Lipset also argues that countries that have retained constitutional monarchies have had a more stable democratic order and development than those that became republics (78-79). Preserving the monarchies, according to his view, helped those who were losers during the transition to a new social structure and therefore felt alienated in the entire modernisation project. These, often conservative, groups could then more gradually adapt to the new situation, while countries with newly founded republics saw unrest and instability and lack of legitimacy among the conservative orders. Where Lipset writes about the inter-war period we are inclined to extend his argument to the very special period of WWII and the German occupation of Norway and Denmark, where the royal families in both cases provided an example of stability and the social and national values of the times before the great upheaval of the occupation (and WWII in general), thereby helping all those who were losers, i.e. opposed to the German occupation. The symbolic importance of the two royal families can probably not be over-estimated even though they themselves chose different ways in their opposition to the German occupation. The Swedish royal family also functioned as the “national” family in times of severe turbulence and concern.

is in no way comparable to times of major social upheavals or foreign occupation during a war as comprehensive as WWII. But one can still ask if the monarchical institution still provides an element of stability in today’s uncertain situation. The next question then is, are today´s monarchies able and for the Nordic monarchies, constitutionally, and in political and social practice?

Constitutions and Political Practice constitution if political practice over time has changed the meaning of formal


The Limits of Constitutional Monarchy in Scandinavia: The Road to Survival of Monarchies?

formulations in some of the articles of the constitution. A good example of this is the Danish Constitution, where the term “The King” does not in any way mean “the King (Queen) of the day”, but refers to “the government”, which has in reality – and because they are the ones who can be held to account by Parliament – now assumed the powers which according to the words of the constitution rest with the Monarch. This obviously can confuse those – in particular (but not only) foreigners – reading the constitution verbally, but it does not create practical, political problems in Denmark.

The same situation applies for Norway but the information on the Norwegian royal household’s homepage clearly informs readers that when the Constitution refers to the King, it nowadays means “the government” not the King. This is not the case with the Danish royal homepage, where one really has to search for precise information on the constitution and an authoritative interpretation thereof. It is not available on the monarchy page, but on Her Majesty The Queen´s homepage and then far down under the heading “Tasks and Duties” and after headings like “Language”, “Relations to Defence”, and “Politics”. Nor is it anywhere explained why the Queen is still seen to act as if she has real political-legal power, e.g., as she still countersigns bills and appoints ministers, including the prime minister. So it their Queen has at least some formal power vis-à-vis the politicians, which is not the case.

The presentations of the members of the Danish royal family are designed as ordinary CV’s. The Queen’s personal interests and accomplishments as an artist are described at length.

The homepage on the royal family in Norway stresses the importance of history and heredity, where the religious blessing of the Head of State is an interesting special phenomenon. The presentation gives a general picture of a quite laidback royal family, taking their responsibilities seriously, but not wishing to be high

All three Nordic countries now have succession laws based on the principle of cognatic (equal) primogeniture. In spite of this principle, it is worth mentioning that there are still differences between the sexes. A Queen’s husband is not entitled to kingship, and his title is “Prince Consort”, while a woman marrying a King


Monarchy & Democracy in the 21st Century

becomes a Queen, in her own capacity and with special duties. However, the Danish Prince Consort, Henrik – like other prince consorts – has no special duties. The Queens in Norway and Sweden lead their own households.

As mentioned earlier, discussions on the status of monarchies are rare, even though the situation of preparation for the current Swedish constitution was one of 20 sharp and intense discussions and considerations. Much of this debate took place inside the Social Democratic Party (which was then in power and had taken the initiative to revise the constitution), as there was an urge among several groups in the party to turn Sweden into a republic. Books and pamphlets were published, and discussions and endless debates were conducted. The King, Gustaf VI Adolf, was getting older and the heir, Carl Gustaf, was only a child when the revision was initiated. Anyhow, at age 27, Carl X Gustaf succeeded his grandfather on the throne in 1973 and a year later the new constitution was adopted by Parliament. Probably due to the popularity of the royal family, the Social Democratic Party did not dare to challenge the general public on the issue of abolishing the monarchy. After 1974 discussions on the monarchy and its raison d´être have faded away. But talks about the situation when it is possible to force the Head of State to resign:

"After six months of non-governing the government can report this fact to the parliament and the King has to step down." The reasons for introducing this article in the constitution are not known to us.

Two years later, in 1976, 500 million people viewed the wedding between King disagreements regarding the present and future role of the monarchy, this occasion provided an excellent opportunity to re-establish the role of the monarchy in the hearts and minds of the Swedish people. Not only did the ceremony (arranged as a fairy-tale wedding/coronation with no costs spared) attract an almost incredible TV audience, but the Swedes went to the streets in masses, showing their genuine support for the newlyweds. The royal family had again displayed its social powers, thereby regaining centre stage, although it had now no constitutional power whatsoever.

The homepage of the Swedish dynasty consequently only presents the King´s ceremonial and symbolic role. But the King has at the same time maintained the


The Limits of Constitutional Monarchy in Scandinavia: The Road to Survival of Monarchies?

our assessment of the role of the monarchies. One now sees that the King in all situations – apart from the opening of parliament in the Parliament House, where sending a strong symbolic signal to Swedish citizens on the country’s leadership.

As we have noticed earlier the situation in the three countries is quite similar in rhetoric and practice, even if constitutions differ. The Heads of State want to see – and present – themselves as the foremost representative of their countries. The same approach is also implicit in their homepages where succession rules, heritage and history is presented as something natural and valuable; this contributes to no serious discussion about the introduction of a republic in any of the three countries (apart from the discussion in Sweden in the years before 1974).

Differences between Formal and Informal Structures and Patterns of Behaviour The brief descriptions of the development in the Scandinavian monarchies as well as the observations by Lijphart, Lipset, and Rose and Kavanagh all point to the importance of the time dimension as there has been a clear development over time in how Monarchs (and other royalty) have perceived their roles and responded to it. A hundred years ago the Monarchs in Denmark and Sweden saw themselves as having a political role to play – because they disagreed with this or that in the political sphere, but they and – in particular – their successors gradually realised that they had to make a very hard choice if they wanted to retain their position. In real terms they had no other choice than to accept that the sovereign people had now moved to a situation with chosen representatives to lead the affairs of state. If they wanted their dynasties to continue, they therefore had to accept the symbolic, unifying role as Head of State – and only that. However the key question is still what role the Monarchs of today want (or need?) to play – and how they see the future for their dynasties.

Only few opinion polls on attitudes towards the monarchies have been conducted in Scandinavia. The picture is very clear as solid majorities in all three countries (at least about two thirds) support the institution, even though the support in all three countries has been slowly declining over recent years. But opinion


Monarchy & Democracy in the 21st Century

polls can only – at best – provide us with a partial answer to the question about monarchies’ actual role and support. It is intriguing that there has not in any of the Scandinavian countries been a serious, in-depth discussion about the future position of monarchy and why the institution should be retained even when all its important functions have been removed. One would expect that this kind of public debate would be important to all who want to uphold the monarchy (either because they are genuine monarchists or because they for one or another reason are not sympathetic to the introduction of a republican form of government). This kind of constructive debate is more necessary for monarchists now more than ever as the position of the monarchies is probably weaker than ever because the increasing medialisation which, in this context, refers to the interplay between the media and the monarchical institutions.

John Plunkett argues in Queen Victoria: First Media Monarch, with considerable

strength, that the rise of modern mass media reinvented the position of the monarchy in national life. When Queen Victoria was criticised for having retired from her formal duties in 1870’s, the economist Walter Bageholt concluded: "To

to be a symbol, and an effective symbol you

must vividly and often be seen." The situation is arguably the same today, as it is obviously believed (and followed) by royal families who work professionally on their images and on media strategies, engaging specialists to position them on the public arena in order to make them popular and visible and – therefore – success in all monarchies.

be invisible is to be forgotten [


Today, as earlier, opinions on the obsolete royalty, incommensurable with the ideas

of a democratic and egalitarian political culture, are not infrequent, although not spoken out loudly. Still stronger, however, is a trend of a growing attraction to the royal institutions as argued by Jönsson & Lundell (2009). This appears to have

a certain validity also in the Scandinavian countries where the revival of royalty

is extremely noticeable in the media and, therefore, also by the public at large. Television programmes, magazines, and periodicals are incessantly trying to meet

a rising demand from curious readers/royalists.

one example, even though it probably is the best known and most obvious ever.


The Limits of Constitutional Monarchy in Scandinavia: The Road to Survival of Monarchies?

Media have played a determining role in shaping this new trend by not only giving royal families a public platform where they function as the most prominent and symbolically important personalities, but also at the same time acting as prime time media stars. The christening of a little new prince in Denmark in July 2009 is another example where this ordinary and private event resulted in an enormous media exposure even though the baby is only seventh in line for the throne.

Constant exposure in the media contributes to developing a feeling in the audience (i.e., among the citizens) of presence and control. Even if the Head of State is only seen as acting on behalf of the government, corporations, organisations, or individuals he (she) takes on the role of an initiator, giving himself (herself) a quality of taking charge and being in power. This image played in the media brings forth an interest in these omnipotent, beautiful, and well-behaved personalities. A typical royalist of today appears to be characterised by an affective and personal person. Today’s media, therefore, try to make these well-known but obviously distant personalities in the royal families more familiar and closer to the ordinary interest.

As we argued earlier, the traditional conservative groups (as nobility and upper classes) were the royal proponents and supporters in the early twentieth century. The actual situation is said to be different in that today’s ordinary citizens have also become strong supporters of the royalty. This is partly because of the opening of the homes and parts of the private life to the media in Denmark, e.g., partly by portraying the royal family of the 1940’s and 1950’s as a rather normal family with three little girls, and partly because the royal families have now accepted intermarriages between royalty and individuals of common background. On the other hand, the entourage of the royal families is still very clearly almost exclusively drawn from the upper classes so real interaction with ordinary citizens is still a rare phenomenon.

The media focus is clearly aiming more at the private aspects of royal family life – which all citizens to some degree can understand and identify with – than at to them. The media focus and interest on personal and intimate matters is not


Monarchy & Democracy in the 21st Century

exclusively aiming at the royal families as the same is the case for politicians – also giving the politicians new problems as well as new possibilities, depending on their ability to interact constructively with the media.

The constitutional Monarch in a democracy can be (i.e., should be) the opportunities to work on the creation of this kind of unity and cohesiveness, such as all kinds of ceremonies, inaugurations of institutions, buildings and monuments, celebrations, tours of the country, etc. Simultaneously the King serves as a main attraction, as part of the culture, giving him a distinct role as the natural centre at such occasions. To choose the right events to attend and contribute to – from the hundreds suggested to the royal families every month – is therefore a crucial and strategic task.

At such occasions the Head of State may choose to deliver a speech which displays his views/ feelings even more directly. The Swedish King recently inaugurated a national reserve in the archipelago on the West coast of Sweden. This project has been highly politicised; the King – having a strong image as protector of nature – nevertheless accepted to inaugurate the reserve and in his speech he took a strong political stand for the creation of the reserve. The media even hinted that he had been instrumental in the process, giving him credence in some groups, criticism in others.

Informal or “Soft” Power The right to formally appoint the prime minister is seen as a key issue by many, at least theoretically and in complicated situations. But the political reality is that there is no such right and this interpretation of the actual constitutional law has not for many years been challenged in the three Scandinavian countries. In Denmark, e.g., the last serious confrontation over this topic was back in 1920 – 90 years ago – when the then King was taught a lesson by the majority of the politicians. And since 1974 Sweden has transferred all functions related to the appointment of prime ministers from the King to the Speaker of Parliament to completely avoid any future problems in this area, i.e., of monarchical interference in the purely

The Monarch should, obviously, accept that he/she is Head of State, not Head of Government. The temptation to forget that is, however, probably more often seen with presidents because of the fact that they have also been elected – and


The Limits of Constitutional Monarchy in Scandinavia: The Road to Survival of Monarchies?

therefore also have a popular mandate. This popular mandate confers a special legitimacy on them which they may use to challenge the Head of the Government of the day as we have mentioned earlier. But one should not forget that political legitimacy does not only come from having been elected. It also to some degree depends on personal charisma and other personality characteristics, which are also instrumental for media penetration and acceptance.

The existence of dual channels of political legitimacy in many presidential systems (i.e., where the president is elected separately from parliament) is a special problem, which one does not see in monarchies. The other way to avoid this problem is to have a president who is elected by members of parliament (functioning as an electoral college). This is what one sees in a country like South Africa.

To this can be added that there is an important difference in the way preparation age, be educated so that he/she might eventually (at an unknown point in time) be ready to shoulder the responsibility of being the nation’s unifying element. This is a tough challenge but it appears that even more could be done – i.e. is the preparation as we see it now good enough? And who is to decide if the person in question has the necessary gifts for the job? Can his/her talents develop enough? As far as we know there are no legal safety nets or resources to help out if a situation should arise where it becomes obvious that the heir does not match a and gradually changed, to a considerable degree because of the increasing media exposure and demands from the public who demand someone who can play a distinctive, representative role both in the country and abroad.

It is also remarkable that the second-in-line to the throne is not given the same kind of continuous educational and other training for that person’s future role as in line to the throne in almost the same way, in order to avoid problems, should something happens to the immediate heir to the throne.

are trained by specialists in communication, style, protocol etc.), but are selected by their parties to stand for election if the party expects that they can win the ultimate


Monarchy & Democracy in the 21st Century

political prize to the party. One then has to hope that they – based on their general

The Monarch in a constitutional monarchy must act – and be seen to act – in a way which is politically completely neutral. A formal expression of this is that the Danish Monarch (and the heir to the throne, when he/she has turned 18) are not

The Monarch must be non-partisan and be seen to be non-partisan. But how far does this requirement go? Can the Monarch indicate publicly his political preferences in relation to issues, which are important, but where some of the political parties have positioned themselves differently, e.g., on a taxation issue? how at least some voters perceive the issue and the reasonableness of the various policy positions taken by the political parties.

The consequence is that the Monarch does not express – at least – party political opinions which might have a bearing on the political development in the country. But as we have suggested earlier, the Head of State has at least some channels Outside Scandinavia, Prince Charles’ interest in architecture in the UK is well- known – and controversial – but supports our point. Another example is the collaboration between the Swedish Social Democratic Party and the royal family during World War II, when the royal family was heavily involved in obtaining a contribute more than they did through the taxes).

A special event was arranged and activities were orchestrated with participation from the royal family, prominent politicians, military personnel, and various cultural personalities, thus giving the event credence as well as legitimacy and visibility. The event was called ”The Big Propaganda and Citizen Party for the Defence Loan”. Not less than 60,000 people gathered at Skansen, where the King gave a long speech that was broadcasted. The King and other members of the royal family contributed to the loan from their own pockets. This kind of collaboration between the King, the government, and media still takes place in Sweden as in the other Nordic countries. The Norwegian royal family has been both instrumental


The Limits of Constitutional Monarchy in Scandinavia: The Road to Survival of Monarchies?

and successful in their contribution by winning the bid to host two Winter Olympic Games in Norway during recent decades, which is a real political and public achievement. In spite of industrious efforts Sweden has not been able to obtain even one game, one partial reason probably being royal reluctance in promoting Sweden in this particular respect. The initiatives and events might differ but all those involved know that co-operation makes things easier – and it provides the royal family with an opportunity to express its position on issues from the political government policy positions.

This is also the case in relation to foreign policy issues. As Head of State the Monarch must in his/her dealings with other states only express opinions that heavily criticised some years ago when he expressed an opinion that could be

a country on the other side of the globe. The episode clearly weakened the King’s

position in Sweden, not only because of what he said, but also because the episode

he could and what he could not do.

It obviously presents a considerable challenge to embody the nation and act as the Head of State – and simultaneously have to accept that the democratic expression

and representation of the people should always only be through parliamentary and governmental channels. One would think that a competent and intelligent person should be able to learn to deal with this continuous challenge, but this hypothesis

is not always supported by evidence.

“Democracy” and “monarchy” only go well together if monarchy at all times understands that its very special – and certainly not unimportant – role can only be channel. But co-operation through informal channels – and on non-controversial issues – are still an option if there is a willingness to reach for a positive outcome. speeches at New Year’s Eve, which, in Denmark are heard and watched by most Danes as they are both televised and broadcasted. The Head of State, i.e., the Queen, can then present directly to the citizens what by many is perceived as her views on various issues. The speeches obviously vary in depth, but it is interesting


Monarchy & Democracy in the 21st Century

that they are analysed by many – and commented on by even more – who want time. In the Queen’s latest speech, in 2008, she expressed clear support for Danish troops on mission in Afghanistan, which of course is a very political issue, even though popular support in Denmark is still clearly in favour thereof. What should be understood, however, is that the Queen – and her staff – do not prepare the speech completely on their own. Drafts are exchanged between the Castle and will occur when the speech is actually delivered. So the conclusion is that the the government’s positions on these issues – nothing more and nothing less. It is interesting that the 2008 remarks by the Queen on Afghanistan only resulted in a few lifted eyebrows here and there, while in Sweden, the King’s support for the same issue has been highly controversial and considered political as several parties strongly oppose either sending soldiers abroad – or at least the participation in the Afghan mission.

Representatives of the royal houses are also very keen not to get involved with civil society on issues which may be socially and politically divisive. When royalty agrees to be patrons of civil society organisations, it is always – at least in Scandinavia all – such as the Red Cross – while others (like Amnesty International) are seen as being too political and they are, therefore, better avoided. The list of organisations with royal patrons is long and impressive, but also mainly non-offensive as it is dominated by humanitarian and cultural organisations that are fully acceptable to most citizens. This is another way for the royal family to be – and remain – an so-called soft power. We here refer to Joseph Nye’s discussion of media’s ability to ideals. Nye even argues that the media content is as important as how a country’s domestic and foreign politics are being run (2004). We are convinced that this concept and this understanding of media’s ability to provide soft power is a useful key to actually understanding how media interest in all aspects of royalty and royal life contributes to the survival of monarchies – at least in the short-run.


The Limits of Constitutional Monarchy in Scandinavia: The Road to Survival of Monarchies?

Media and Monarchy

A central point here is, however, that this forecast is based on media’s positive

presentation of the monarchical institution as such and of the individual members

of the royal family (and especially those close to the throne). The decline in popular

support for the monarchies (seen in all three countries) is noteworthy, even if there

is still majority support for monarchy in all three countries. We are convinced

that this might change if the strong media interest (also in trivialities) wanes and/

or members of the royal houses would suddenly start to behave in a way that

challenges the accepted picture of them as modernising (up to a point) – while still behaving according to tradition and generally accepted norms.

But even the issue of which causes and organisations to accept as worthy of royal support and patronage can be a thin line to walk. That has recently been demonstrated in Denmark, where Crown Prince Frederik has been nominated for Denmark’s vacant position as member of the International Olympic Committee

so that is not the issue. And he is using his position to argue in favour of Danes

The issue is, instead, if it is a good idea to have the future King placed in a position where he one day might have to vote on issues that are basically political in nature

as demonstrated by the discussions about the saliency of human rights issues in

relation to the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. The government has accepted the Crown Prince’s candidature but the discussion about it in the public demonstrates how thin the line is. And that the Government was asked about its position on the issue also shows that it is seen as something the young man cannot do on his own, precisely because it is not a non-political, almost uncontroversial point . And what about the future, when he one day inherits the throne and becomes King of the very fact that he will then have to step down from his IOC seat shows that it is foreseen that there might be political and controversial issues to be dealt with. If this is so, should he have the seat now?

Another almost unproblematic project royalty can – and do – engage in is the promotion of the country’s business and cultural activities abroad, as that is clearly advantageous to the entire country. Again, the point is that such activities


Monarchy & Democracy in the 21st Century

segments. But there are some vital political decisions in this area also. They concern which countries to visit, who to take on as members of the entourage, royal family often holds more knowledge and connections than corporations and organisations and they are therefore in a good position to take on a leading role.

Conclusion It follows from the above that a constitutional monarch can have no role – and should have no role – as an arbiter or arbitrator of political or other controversies because that might easily put him in situations where he would have to speak in support of positions taken by a political party, civil society organisation, or an individual – and that would be seen as taking sides. This has been clearly understood by Scandinavian Monarchs, at least for now.

they can be held accountable during the next round of elections, and if they survive politically they can claim that they have now obtained the legitimising support of the people.

The Monarch cannot in the same way have his interference in political matters approved or disapproved by the people (apart from them taking to the streets), so his interference in the politics of the day will be seen by many (but not necessarily all) as illegitimate. The politicians have their mandate to act and take decisions from the electoral support of the voters, which is not the case of the monarch. This is also the case when the people in a referendum support the monarchy as an institution and/or chosen a particular individual as the next King (as was the case in Norway in 1905).

The acceptance of the role for the King as a symbolic, nationally unifying element also has another consequence, which is that the Monarch can continue as such (if that pleases him or her) until he or she passes away, maybe as a very old person. One can still be a symbol of the nation as an old, fragile person, even though there obviously is also a limit to that.

One might even argue that one needs to be seen as active, strong, and healthy if one wants positive attention from the media and broad support from the people. Nobody would probably deny that the beautiful young daughters and wives in the royal families are an important asset for today’s monarchies. They are linked to


The Limits of Constitutional Monarchy in Scandinavia: The Road to Survival of Monarchies?

national pride, something for the nation to enjoy and be proud of. Furthermore they can appear in national projects as marrying, giving birth, and being displayed. These events are looked upon by media and by the public as symbols and embodiment of the nation. Therefore, a royal child does not – in this respect – belong only to his family, but also to the whole nation – to the national “we”. The royal glamour seems to fascinate the media and the general public (not least its

female part) as a never-ending story. It, therefore, appears to us that an important

– maybe even the most important key to success – that is monarchical survival in

the long run – is to be accepted as being active, visible, and modern (to a point).

The requirement of the current Constitution of Bhutan that the King has to step down at 65 actually sends the same kind of signal, namely that the Monarch must be a person who is not beyond retirement age and who is in reality active and able to be more than a mere symbol. This constitutional requirement is not found in Scandinavian constitutions, but the role of the media and the provision of at least a certain element of soft power might – as we have argued – change this and also help us understand why it is that an institution as archaic as monarchy survive in modern democracies. And one should not forget that Article 5 of the Swedish constitution now says that after six months of his or her non-governing, the government can force the Head of State to step down. This statement also requests that the country has a vital Head of State – even though that person has been deprived of all formal tasks.

If the point is that there is a positive, active political role that the Monarch must be able to shoulder, then one is moving away from constitutional monarchy, where the King should not – under any circumstances – have a politically active role. What we have argued is that the concept of “soft power” might be an important

– not only in Scandinavia, but probably elsewhere as well. Formal constitutional

pursuing because the meaning of the concept “constitutional monarchy” is still that the monarch has his powers constrained by the constitution and that there are the politicians who have been elected by the voters to be the representatives of the sovereign people.

Jørgen Elklit is Professor of Political Science, Aarhus University, Denmark; Birgitta Wistrand is attached to Gender Studies at Uppsala University, Sweden.


Monarchy & Democracy in the 21st Century


Appleby, Joyce Oldham. Liberalism and Republicanism in the Historical Imagination. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard UP, 1992. Print.

Aris, Michael. The Raven Crown: the Origins of Buddhist Monarchy in Bhutan. London:

Serindia Publications, 1994. Print. Åse, Cecilia. Makten Att Se: Om Kropp Och Kvinnlighet I Lagens Namn. Malmö: Liber,

2000. Print.

Blain, Neil, and Hugh O’Donnell. Media, Monarchy and Power. Bristol: Intellect,

2003. Print.

Duchhardt, Heinz, Richard A. Jackson, and D. J. Sturdy. European Monarchy: Its

Evolution and Practice from Roman Antiquity to Modern times . Stuttgart: F. Steiner,

1992. Print.

Hedengren, Sven-Olof, Elisabeth Tarras-Wahlberg, Cecilia Wilmhardt, and Clas

Göran Carlsson. Den Svenska Monarkin. Stockholm: Kungl. Hovstaternas Informations- Ochavd., 1996. Print. Jönsson, Mats, and Patrik Lundell. Media and Monarchy in Sweden. Göteborg:

Nordicom, 2009. Print. Knopp, Guido. Majestät!: Die Letzten Großen Monarchien. München: Bertelsmann,

2006. Print.

Lijphart, Arend. Patterns of Democracy: Government Forms and Performance in Thirty-six Countries. New Haven: Yale UP, 1999. Print. Lipset, Seymour Martin. Political Man. London: Heinemann, 1969. Print. Nye, Joseph S. Soft Power: the Means to Success in World Politics. New York: Public Affairs, 2004. Print.

Plunkett, John. Queen Victoria: First Media Monarch. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2003.

Print. Rodell, Magnus. Att Gjuta En Nation: Statyinvigningar Och Nationsformering I Sverige Vid 1800-talets Mitt. Stockholm: Natur Og Kultur, 2002. Print. Rose, Richard, and Dennis Kavanagh. “The Monarchy in Contemporary Political Culture.” Comparative Politics 8.4 (1976): 548-76. Print.


Ekerö: L.

Wallinder, 1982. Print. Thompson, Mark R. Democratic Revolutions Asia and Eastern Europe. London:

Routledge, 2004. Print.



Democracy and Monarchy in Thailand

Professor Emeritus Dr. Suchit Bunbongkarn

Introduction Absolute monarchy, which had prevailed in Thailand for seven centuries, was replaced by constitutional monarchy through a coup by middle ranking military instability, frequent changes of government, coups and counter-coups and shifts back and forth between representative government and authoritarian rule. Only the monarchy has remained stable as it continues to win respect from the populace. Changes of government under the constitutional monarchy have mostly been brought about through coups and mass uprisings rather than elections. However, there has never been prolonged, nor large-scale political violence and, as a consequence, the country has survived. This can be attributed to the unifying role of the monarchy, which is the country’s most revered institution as well as a symbol of the traditions and moral core of the nation. This paper attempts to explain the role of the monarchy in helping to maintain peace, stability and unity

The King as Head of State Under the present Constitution, like all the previous ones, the King is the Head of State who is enthroned in a position of reverence and cannot be violated. No one can expose the King to any sort of accusation.

As Head of State the Monarch performs several state functions. All legislative, executive, and judicial functions are conducted under the King’s name. He signs bills passed by the legislature, appoints the prime minister on the advice of the legislature, and appoints cabinet ministers and high-ranking government and the Buddhist Supreme Patriarch and high-ranking Buddhist monks, confers


Monarchy & Democracy in the 21st Century

of crimes. The Monarch does not bear any decision-making responsibility in performing these functions. The Prime Minister is responsible for most of the symbolic functions the King performs.

In addition several ceremonial functions are performed by the Monarch. For instance, he receives foreign ambassadors and other foreign government representatives. As the patron of Buddhism he presides over important Buddhist religious ceremonies. The King is also the patron of other religions that have followers in the country.

Another important function as Head of State is that His Majesty is the honorary supreme commander of the armed forces. During the period of absolute monarchy, the King was the real leader of the military and was responsible for all military affairs, including conducting warfare. Since 1932 the Monarch’s power and authority has been constitutionally limited. The King has ceased to command the armed forces, but he is still given the position of ‘honorary’ supreme commander. bond between the Monarch and the armed forces.

Political Neutrality and the Constitutional Monarch The King’s functions mentioned above are not different from those of the Monarchs in Western constitutional monarchies. They are the functions of the sovereigns who are required by their respective constitutions and tradition to be either politically neutral or above politics. These functions are, by and large, ceremonial in nature. Nonetheless the socio-political situation in Thailand is quite different from those in the Western democracies and, as a result, the role played by the Thai Monarch has not been limited to performing only ceremonial functions. The exercise of his moral authority has sometimes been necessary to help assure the stability and security of the nation.

In Western constitutional monarchies, the governments are relatively stable, demonstrations, but the governments are able to handle them effectively and hence the sovereigns are not under pressure to intervene. However, in Thailand, there have been military coups, political violence, riots, uprisings and demonstrations, which have often led to political instability. This creates a situation wherein the


Democracy and Monarchy in Thailand

Monarch must determine whether or not he should remain politically neutral. Nevertheless the King, since ascending to the throne in 1946, has been mostly effective in maintaining perceived political neutrality while, at the same time, making it known that he was very concerned with any political instability that might lead to violence and bloodshed.

The role of the King in political crises is not stipulated in the Constitution. When the public expects the King to do something to bring the country out of a crisis, what should the King do? In fact, when a crisis breaks out, it is the government’s responsibility to resolve it – but the King may give advice if things get out of hand.

Being above politics does not mean that the King cannot be concerned with political problems threatening the country’s stability. The King may exercise his moral authority and give advice to the government and political adversaries as to how to solve the nation’s problems, but he is always careful not to overstep his duties as stipulated in the Constitution.

In April 2006 when the protests against Thaksin’s government became stronger and the government mobilised its supporters to counter the protests, there were calls by several groups for a royally-appointed Prime Minister, but the King did not respond. It was understood that the Constitution did not give him power to do so. In his address to newly appointed judges in April 2006, the King insisted that political problems must be resolved through constitutional means. Even when he intervened in 1973 and once again in 1992 to end bloodshed in Bangkok after clashes broke out between soldiers and anti-government protesters, what he did was not unconstitutional. He gave advice to the parties concerned as to how to end acquired through his political neutrality, charisma and integrity.

Foreign media sometimes criticised the military coups, arguing that they are not legitimate, including the one on September 19, 2006. These critics pointed out that when the palace accepted the coups, it was going against the principle of political neutrality and, in doing so, it gave the coups legitimacy. Let us look at the concept of political legitimacy. Every political system must have legitimacy to ensure political stability and to maintain its political integrity. The political legitimacy of a political system is related to the political culture of the people in that system. According to Lucian Pye, political culture “is a set of attitudes, beliefs and sentiments that


Monarchy & Democracy in the 21st Century

gives order and meaning to a political process and that provide the underlying assumptions and rules that govern behaviour in the political system” (Pye 104-5). political legitimacy. If the people’s political beliefs or ideology are consistent with the political processes and the scope of power and authority of the rulers, then the political leaders and process would have political legitimacy.

Regarding the question of the legitimacy of a military coup, in the case of Thailand, one has to look at the acceptance of the public. As long as there is not a large- scale public protest, one can say that the military takeover is accepted and thus legitimate. Since 1932, there have been a number of successful coups and they were acceptable to the public if the coup leaders made sure that they would not be in power for long. Therefore, whether a military coup can be legitimate or not depends on the public acceptance, not the King’s. In fact, the King, being above politics, cannot express his views on any coup. At any rate, there is now a sign of growing discontent on the part of the public against a military coup, which would

Political Polarisation and the Monarchy At the moment we are witnessing an increase of political awareness among Thais Thaksin movements that has divided Thai society is an indication of the increase in terms of class struggle between the old elites or the urban rich against the rural poor. They have argued that old elites are against Thaksin because he had worked against their class interests by helping the poor. They have further argued that the poor have been Thaksin’s supporters because the former Prime Minister was the only leader who really helped them to get out of poverty.

uprising. In addition those who are in anti- and pro-Thaksin movements have come from various social and economic strata. Although the urban middle class people are in the anti-Thaksin group, there are also a number of rural people in it. Regarding the pro-Thaksin movement, despite the fact that a large number of


Democracy and Monarchy in Thailand

supporters came from rural areas in the North and Northeast, the movement is able to draw support from some urban middle class people too. The issue involved in Those who are anti-Thaksin believe that Thaksin is corrupt, anti-monarchy, and likely to become an authoritarian ruler if he is able to come back. The objective of the pro-Thaksin group is to bring the former prime minister back to power. The attack on General Prem Tinasulanond, the President of Privy Council, and the present political system, which the pro-Thaksin movement’s leaders have labelled as a ‘bureaucratic polity’, may be ideologically inclined, but most of the rural supporters joined the movement because they simply want Thaksin to come back so as to respond favourably to their “mouth and stomach” concerns.

not to do anything unconstitutional. At the peak of the crisis from October to November 2008 when there was a violent suppression of the anti-Thaksin protesters in front of the parliament and their occupation of Suvarnaphumi airport (where there was no government suppression), some wanted the King to intervene. The King did not indulge their wish, but let the constitutional processes run its course.

The Thai Concept of the Monarchy Despite the introduction of the constitutional monarchy system in 1932, Thais continue to respect the King much as they did in the absolute monarchy period. This demonstrates that the institution of monarchy is deeply-rooted in Thai society, and the concept of kingship prevailing in that period was not greatly affected by the 1932 revolution. Although the legal authority of the Monarch has been substantially curtailed to that of a Head of State, the people’s reverence of the monarchy as an indispensable traditional institution is still prevalent.

The system of absolute monarchy in Thailand can be traced back to the Sukhothai period when King Sri-Intradhit established a kingdom at Sukhothai in 1238, freeing itself from the control of the Khmer Empire. The patriarchal kingship was founded in that year based on the original Thai concept of the father-child relationship. It was believed that the Sukhothai people referred to their king as Pho- khun or "revered father". As Prince Dhani put it, “The Monarch was of course the people’s leader in battle; but he was also in peace-time their father whose advice was sought…”


Monarchy & Democracy in the 21st Century

conception of the kingship become more prevalent thereafter when the kings were referred to as Dharmaraja or the righteous ruler. In fact King Ramkhamhaeng himself had set a model of the righteous ruler abiding by the dictates of Buddhist morality.

The concepts of kingship and the government authority during the Ayudhya period were a mixture of Hinduism and Buddhism. The absolutism of the kingship during this period was based on Hindu theory which considered the King as god, or Devaraja. But this absolutism was constrained by Buddhism, which provided the concept of Dharmaraja, or the righteous King. Therefore, as David Wyatt pointed out, “the Brahmanical concept of the Devaraja, make the King the embodiment of the law, while the reign of Buddhist moral principle ensured that he should be measured against the law” (Samudavanija 8). The late Prince Dhani in his article on “The Old Siamese Conception of the

Thai concept of kingship. He pointed out that the rule and duties of the King was based on the Thammasat, or Dharmsatra, which “describes its ideal of a Monarch as

a King of Righteousness, elected by the people”. The ideal Monarch, as the prince noted, abides ‘‘steadfast in the ten kingly virtues’’ (Prince Dhani 163).

The Ten Royal Virtues, or Tosapitrajadharma, were drawn from both Hindu and Buddhist thought. King Asoka of ancient India who, in Somdej Phra establish a Buddhist welfare state. He was known to be the one who observed gentleness, simplicity, freedom from anger, non-violent behavior, tolerance and inoffensive nature (Buddhajinavamsa 92)

in the concept of Dharmaraja mentioned above, but in the belief that the King is

a Bodhisattva or incipient Buddha (Wales 31). According to Hinayana Buddhism,

since the accumulation of merit is rewarded by rebirth to a better life, the King

must be the one who had accumulated an abundance of merit in his former lives. In other words, he must be the one who has barami. The word barami can be translated loosely as "charisma". But, in fact, it means more than "charisma". Barami often refers to personal character or a disposition of benevolence and


Democracy and Monarchy in Thailand

compassionate use of power. As William Klausner, a well known expert on Thai culture and society stated, “for barami one should also possess a certain gravitas which connotes a weighted dignity and seriousness of purpose. Barami is earned by wisdom and vision” (Klausner 6). Not every king in the Ayudhya period observed the Ten Royal Virtues or used his barami to wisely maintain his political legitimacy. faith in him.

Under the present system of constitutional monarchy, the theory of the Devaraja is no longer accepted, but the people continue to respect the present King as their ‘revered’ father. This is because of the barami that he has accumulated throughout more than sixty years of his reign. He is considered the Dharmaraja who has strictly observed the ten royal virtues, and this is where his moral authority comes from. His charisma, or barami, as a Dharmaraja, as William Klausner rightly notes, ‘‘is personal and not transferable’’ (Klausner 3). The extent of one’s barami depends on the possession of the Ten Kingly Virtues and the ruler’s righteous behavior. These attributes are personal and are not related to one having the title of Devaraja or Dharmaraja.

The King’s Rural Development Projects The King’s barami has been strengthened through his concern for his people’s well-being. He has been working tirelessly for the welfare of the Thais, particularly those in rural areas.

Political problems and crises have not distracted the King from his commitment to promote the wellbeing of the Thai people. He saw the need for rural development project to build the Huai Mong-Kol road in Hua Hin district, Prachuab Province. Then he initiated rural development projects that have been spread out all over the country. These included land allotments for farmers, rice and buffalo banks, and agricultural cooperatives. The King established several experimental programs on padi-growing, animal husbandry, the production of new rice seeds, and a dairy deforestation, and to substitute other crops for the opium poppy. Several irrigation projects were suggested by him to help farmers in barren areas and to prevent


Monarchy & Democracy in the 21st Century

to sustain the country’s economic development

traditional continuity of the monarchy, the King’s contribution to the welfare and wellbeing of the people has strengthened the bond between the Monarch and his subjects, and reinforced his role of Head of State and Dharmaraja.

Together with the prestige and

Conclusion Thailand’s democracy has been very fragile and whenever the country was in crisis, the people hoped the Monarch would intervene. But the King, although very concerned with political fragility, always resolved crises through democratic and constitutional means. In the past, the military often intervened when there were political crises, but they failed to launch political reforms to consolidate Thailand’s democracy. A military coup is now becoming less and less acceptable, and the military knows very well that a military coup is not a solution to the country’s political problems. Therefore, democratic development in Thailand will depend on the people themselves. The monarchical institution, which has been a force through the process of democratic development that, as a result, will make such development more peaceful and sustainable.

Suchit Bunbongkarn is Professor Emeritus of Political Science, at Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, Thailand.


Buddhajinavamsa, Somdej Phra, and Wat Makutkasatri Yaram. Buddhist Philosophy and Its Social and Educational Relevance in Modern Thailand. MS. Mahamakut Buddhist University, Bangkok. Klausner, William J. Thai Culture in Transition. Bangkok: Siam Society, 2002. Print. Prince Dhani. “The Old Siamese Conception of the Monarchy.” The Siam Society Fiftieth Anniversary Commemorative Publication II (1954): 162. Print. Pye, Lucian W. Aspects of Political Development: an Analytic Study. Boston: Little Brown, 1966. Print. Samudavanija, Chai-Anan. “Political History.” Government and Politics of Thailand. Ed. Xuto Somsak. Singapore: Oxford UP, 1987. Print. Wales, H.G. Quaritch. Siamese State Ceremonies: Their History and Function. London: B. Quaritch, 1931. Print.



The Future of Thai Monarchy

Kavi Chongkittavorn

Introduction At Suvarnabhumi Airport’s Terminal C and D, international passengers can see a huge golden-framed picture showing a gathering of 28 Kings, Queens and royal members from around the world who came to Bangkok ("City of Angels") to congratulate the world’s longest reigning King in June 2006. It was an exceptional occasion to make all the royal families of the world sit together, according to seniority, under one roof. The group photo is a testimony to the popularity and aura of Thailand’s King Bhumibol Adulyadej who has been on the throne since today, it is common to see His Majesty’s face on posters, billboards and on the walls. For centuries the Thai monarchy warded off foreign invaders and most importantly survived repeated attempts by Western colonial powers to usurp them. In Southeast Asia only the Thai monarchy survived colonialisation while its neighbouring countries (Burma, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and Malaysia) succumbed when these powerful forces began their conquest in Malacca from 1511 onwards. This rare institution, particularly during the reign of King Bhumibol, has been consolidating itself ever since. Only recently in Cambodia, the monarchy was reintroduced after a reign of horror under the Khmer Rouge (1975-78) when the royal institution was abolished.

The Thai monarchy is currently confronting new challenges emanating from rapid transformation inside the country in the past three decades. Increased levels of education and awareness, overall economic development, and new technologies are all bringing demanding new voices into politics and the social scene. They are coming from the younger people both in urban and rural areas. Their knowledge and appreciation of traditional Thailand, in whatever form or structure, is marginal, especially those that are framed under the ideas of constitutional monarchy. These


Monarchy & Democracy in the 21st Century

values and norms are becoming increasingly less attractive with the repeated political turmoil in Thailand in recent times. In more ways than one they have challenged established elite and traditional power-sharing arrangements that used to be the foundation of the current Thai political system. Of late they have also attacked the “Thai bureaucratic polity”, or amarnyathipatai, as being dictatorial and elitist in nature.

In the past four years Thai society has become polarised between various contending social groups, known locally as the yellow-shirt and red-shirt groups. While these groups profess loyalty to the monarchy, they differ greatly in their political preferences. The divide widened after the conviction of former prime minister supporter of the red-shirt group – in October 2008 on corruption charges and abuse of power. In late March and early April 2009 Thaksin openly challenged the legitimacy of the Privy Council and its supervisory roles and indirectly criticised of April 2009, Thaksin increased his attacks through the foreign media, accusing the King of interfering in Thai politics and explicitly linked him to the September 2006 coup that ousted Thaksin from power (FT, 20/4/09). During the protest in 2007 by the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) or the yellow-shirt group, their leaders constantly urged the King to step in to end the political impasse. It was customary for Thai opinion leaders to seek the King’s political intervention in time of crisis. But this time it was to no avail. Previously, both politicians and demonstrators had also used the royal institution for their own self-interests; attempts were made from time to time to drag the King into the political quagmire. At a time when large-scale bloodshed seemed possible in Bangkok over Songkran 1 (April 12-13, 2009), Thaksin immediately beseeched “His Majesty” to intervene again to end the showdown. It was an unwarranted provocation from Thaksin who wanted to implicate the King as the real king-maker of Thai politics. Fortunately the latest riots ended without the kind of violence everyone anticipated, thanks to Prime Minister Abhist Vejjajiva’s rejuvenated leadership and his stringent rule to engage security forces and protesters. It was good that the King did not intervene as everybody expected, despite repeated calls by Thaksin and his red-shirt group during the riots. On April 21 st through front page photos published in most Bangkok-based daily newspapers the


The Future of Thai Monarchy

following day, showing him accepting an invitation of the governor of Confrerie du Guillon ("Brotherhood of Guillon") to become a member of the Geneva-based wine-drinking society. The message was succinct: the King was alive and well. He was also drinking wine. Obviously the King is trying to do away with the much- stated stereotype of him meddling with Thai politics. After all elected politicians and Parliament have to settle their own political problems in democratic ways. Never before in Thailand have debates on the role of the Thai Monarch and its future been so intense and direct. Of course the Thai people are still discreet whenever they talk about the royal family. But they do talk about them. During coronation day on May 5, 2009, half a million Thais, wearing white T-shirts (not yellow, red, or blue), showed up at the Royal Plaza to celebrate the anniversary of the King’s 63-year-old reign. It was the largest gathering for such an occasion. Whenever the King was admitted to Siriraj Hospital for health reasons thousands of common folks lined up to offer their best wishes.

Can the Thai monarchy survive the current turmoil with a divided nation? This paper attempts to answer this question by examining the relations between the Thai monarchy and key institutions, including military, bureaucracy, media and rural masses.

The King and his “Reserve Powers” in Thai Politics King Bhumibhol became the monarch at a very young age. In his early years, the King travelled widely throughout the country to get to know his people and allowed them to get close to him and to know him. During his reign Thailand has seen at least 18 Constitutions, 19 coups, 27 prime ministers and 56 governments. So the King knows his constitutional role and duties well and that he must not be involved in politics but that he must play a non-partisan role in the country’s political process and development. But the public often thinks that the King is behind all political manoeuvres. Obviously, these hearsays have further increased the King’s political aura.

As a constitutional Monarch, according to former Prime Minister Anand Panyarachun, the King possesses three discretionary powers: “the right to be consulted, the right to encourage, and the right to warn”. The King exercises these prerogatives through private audiences he grants to the prime minister of the day. Prime Minister Thaksin Shinwatra often divulged parts of his consultations with


Monarchy & Democracy in the 21st Century

the King. Six months before the September coup of 2006, Thaksin had an audience with the King at Klai Kangwon Palace in Hua Hin. He came out saying the King was not on the same page with the Privy Council, which at the time was criticising Thaksin and his behaviour. Thaksin had broken a century-old taboo. Sometimes the prime minister of the day would highlight one or two issues that the King addressed and share it with the public so that they would be aware that the King was concerned about certain issues. But there would not be any personal matter.

Under the Thai Constitution the King does have formal powers and responsibilities. In exercising this function he is conscious of his non-political role. All legislations vetted and approved by the National Assembly must be signed by the King. Sometimes, the King delays his signature—considered a rubber stamp, which could be interpreted in various ways. This discreet but powerful signal is strictly advisory. Whenever the King speaks, either on his birthday or with the Cabinet members or court judges, it is scrutinised and listened to with great attention. Of course there is no guarantee that the King’s thinking is being heard and properly understood.

Contrary to conventional belief, the King has not come out so often to intervene in Thai politics. He has only intervened in a few cases. But when he did, it was always important. Whenever Thai politics is caught in a quagmire, Thais automatically embedded in the Thai psyche, but the most famous scene occurred in May 1992 when the political protagonists – General Suchinda Kraprayoon and Chamlong Srimuang – who were previously at each other’s throats, kneeled before the King. The dramatic event was broadcast live on TV. Within a second, peace was restored. That memorable image represented the high point of the Thai King and his barami, whenever politicians quarrel, or military leaders become restless, Thais bank on the King and his magic power to heal all rifts. This strong sentiment derives from the public belief that Thai political leaders often lack the kind of moral authority to end a political crisis, as they are focused on their own vested interests and constituencies. In this case the King has always been perceived as an impartial person. It is a catch-22 situation. The King is needed when politicians are unable to solve differences among themselves; but whatever measures were taken would be viewed as intervention. The fact that the King is there to help out in times of trouble enhanced his political maturity.


The Future of Thai Monarchy

Thai Monarchy and the Military Every year, 48 hours before the King’s birthday on 5 December, all the leaders of the Thai armed forces dress in full military regalia to perform the trooping of colours at the Royal Plaza to honour the King and pledge allegiance to him and the throne. This colourful annual ritual symbolises the submission of the military to the King’s sovereign authority and political will. The Thai military culture has been built on the foundation of respect for the monarchy. In fact, it has been deeply embedded in the Thai psyche. The most important duty of the Thai military, besides defending the country from external threats, is to protect the throne – everything else is secondary. To outsiders it is hard to understand that all Thai military actions must be carried out in the name of the King and must be honourable and just as His Majesty is honourable and just. The King is the symbol of national unity.

Since most of the coups occurred during his reign, criticisms are naturally aplenty about His Majesty’s role in politics. In fact he does not have any executive power, but he has high symbolic power over the military and society as a whole. The military is clearly subordinated to the King. However, that does not prevent the military from playing an active political role. The rise and fall of a government could directly affect the morale of the armed forces and their budgets. In the past could do so easily by ordering their junior commanders to stage a coup. Quite often, in responding to a political crisis in the past three years, pressure groups, as well as the public at large, have requested the military to intervene. The military has also realised that managing the country under a coup is a tough job, especially to gain diplomatic acceptance. The 2006 coup tarnished the Thai military and democratic development greatly because it showed that the military had not really returned to the barracks. Indeed when Thailand changed from absolute monarchy to constitutional monarchy in 1932, about 95 per cent of all prime ministers and

In the coming years the traditional role of the Thai military in protecting the throne would become even more important due to the issue related to succession. The King’s health has been the subject of intense speculation in the past four years, which has caused great concern among Thai people. At present the relations between the monarchy and the military are very solid. Army Chief General Anupong Paochinda has built his career protecting the royal family as part of


Monarchy & Democracy in the 21st Century

the elite Royal Queen’s Guards. He has proved beyond any doubt, despite being

a classmate of fugitive Thaksin at a military cadet school, that he is a professional

soldier who has successfully resisted the calls to stage a coup since he assumed the position in October 2007. The First Region’s Army Chief, General Prayuth Chan O-cha, who expects to succeed him next year, has also been a staunch supporter of the monarchy.

Monarchy and the Rural Mass

In June 2006 during a week-long demonstration by the rural poor who had gathered at Chatuchak Park, I met a group of rural farmers from Udon Thani, who held a number of placards with the portrait of Thaksin in full military regalia. something like this had occurred. I wondered what had happened to all the smiling faces that were a common sight whenever people waited to see the King and all the kindness he has bestowed on his people for over six decades. Normally, during such demonstrations, portraits of the King were the preferred choices. Since then

I sensed that there was a sea change in the perception of rural Thais who used to their life-cycle.

After Thaksin became the prime minister in early 2001, he initiated a series of debt-relief, and education. With his business background and acumen he was able to populist schemes. As part of the so-called “political marketing”, he constantly came up with new social schemes for the rural areas such as one tambon ("district") one product, one village one free scholarship, one village one million baht fund, among others. Some of these programmes used to be within the purview of the and sustainable development all along. He has done it without political overtones. Throughout his reign, but not in recent years, the King – often accompanied by the Queen and his son and daughters – traveled to remote villages to get to know his subjects. Their Majesties’ entourage would comprise doctors, educators and agricultural experts to provide advice and expertise to villagers directly. More than 3,000 royal-sponsored projects are currently in operation throughout the country.

These rural masses, especially those living in the North and Northeast regions, are considered the country’s poorest. They feel that they have been left out of the


The Future of Thai Monarchy

development process that has been concentrated in urban areas and major cities. In the past, they saw the King as the only person who could deliver services and His populist policies woke them up especially as voters who could pick a prime minister. Aided by former progressive students Thaksin has created networks among villages in the provinces to support his political ambition. Some of them have become elected members of Parliament and have been active in helping the rural masses to organise them – using experience they gained during the armed struggle with the government. At the recent protest by the red-shirt groups, several rural leaders spoke on stage and attacked the King, which had never happened before within a Thai cultural setting. But somehow, Thaksin, the self-styled champion of the poor, has quickly transformed these rural leaders and red-shirt groups into republican aspirants.

Obviously the populist approach has been well received especially in times of the global economic crisis. Every country has come up with its own economic stimulus package to help domestic economies. Recent political outrage showed programs would be undermined. The government under Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva understands this concern very well and since January has adopted bigger populist programmes, but with a better monitoring mechanism, for the rural poor to widen social safety nets such as the 500-baht monthly allowance for senior citizens, free education with free uniforms. In early May Abhisit injected an additional 800 billion baht for the long-term stimulus package.

The Monarchy and Media His Majesty has never given any interviews to members of the Thai media. Journalists are used to reporting what he says verbatim during ceremonies such as the opening of Parliament or to welcome new batches of senior judges. Each year all media outlets faithfully report his speeches on his birthday and New Year Eve. Through these speeches, the media interprets what is on His Majesty’s mind. The palace-media relations are best described as distant but correct. However, the King has granted several interviews to foreign correspondents and writers who were interested in Thailand. The most famous interview was conducted in 1979 with BBC Television, when he discussed the death of his elder brother, King Mahidol, as well as his duty and responsibility as the King of Thailand.

The Thai media regularly prints news from press releases from the Royal Household. Almost all photos related to royal activities are done by pooled media


Monarchy & Democracy in the 21st Century

teams, comprising state-run media organisations. In the printed media, royal- related news often appears. Each day all TV channels will broadcast royal-related news at 8.00 pm provided by the Royal Household, focusing on the activities of members of the royal families. There are no independent royal correspondents as in other constitutional monarchies.

The King, an avid newspaper reader and veteran ham radio operator, has stressed his birthday speech in December 2004 he spoke about the role of the media for the mirror for the government in power and the society as a whole. In the same message he also talked about himself that as a King; he did not see himself as infallible, a King who could do no wrong in the ordinary sense of the word. The King was saying clearly that he was not above criticism. He added that he welcomed critical comments based on facts and objectivity. For the Thai media the King’s comments They immediately associated his comment to earlier complaints on the media made by former PM Thaksin, criticising the media’s role. In a recent interview with Die Spiegel (15-4-09), M.R. Sukhumbhand Paribatra, the King’s cousin and currently the governor of Bangkok, talked about his perception of the King. He said that the Thai monarchy has been successful: “The King has never failed, so his success has built up a myth around him that he could never do anything wrong”. As such, the belief that the King can do no wrong and is untouchable has become a template for the media as well as the rest of the society.

So far no Thai journalist has been charged with lèse majesté, as they simply abstain from reporting or writing about the monarchy. I have been often asked if I have ever written about the Thai monarchy. The answer is in the negative. The only time I did was on 21 January 2001 when I rewrote a short report from London. The Nation on that day published news taken from an English daily, The Independent, about Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn’s fondness for Thai minced pork and shrimp balls made by a Thai restaurant in Stratford-on-Avon in Britain. To celebrate his Royal Household later made an inquiry asking why The Nation had published such an article. I was on duty that day. My response at the time was “to promote Thai food in England”.

It is interesting to note that since 2001 there has been an increase in court cases related to lèse majesté


The Future of Thai Monarchy

foreign media have paid much attention to the draconian set of laws for any person who insults the King and his family. The King actually has never taken recourse to legal actions to silence critics; nor is he, by royal convention, in a position to answer or respond to these critics. He remains unperturbed and proceeds to give royal pardon to those who are convicted. The latest case was that of an Australian writer, Harry Nicolaide, who was jailed for three years in January 2009 for lèse majesté against the King’s son in an unpublished book. He was given amnesty in late March 2009. Another case that made headlines was the pardon of a drunken Swiss tourist who tore off a portrait of the King in Chiang Mai two years ago. However, the real test would soon come. Recently the Thai court passed a 10-year jail term on Suvicha Thakor, a 34-year-old engineer, who used computer software to doctor the image of Thai Queen Sirikit before putting the pictures on YouTube. At present, his case has become the rallying point for a dozen international human rights and freedom of expression groups. They have jointly called for amendments to the draconian lèse majesté laws. A royal pardon is expected for Suvicha but nobody knows when it will happen. The Abhisit-led government could have arrested more online users who committed similar offences if it wanted to. All 37 Internet service providers have recorded all the identities of Internet users, including the time they logged in and out and the sites they clicked on for up to 90 days as mandated by the

Two books on the life and role of the Thai King were written in the past decade. William Stevenson wrote The Revolutionary King in 1999 after spending a year in Thailand. He had access to private meetings and was able to interview the King and his aides. Another book, The King Never Smiles: A Biography of Thailand’s Bhumibol Adulyadej, by Paul Hanley (2005), has further prompted the curiosity of foreign and Thai readers alike about the true nature of the Thai King. This book has caused uneasiness among Thai authorities due to its unusual details and assumptions.

websites and bloggers. At least 4,000 websites were shut down since January 2009 due to the anti-monarchy content. Such online censorship has already tarnished Thailand’s media freedom, which used to be one of the best in Asia. This trend is likely to increase as Thai authorities continue to react in knee-jerk fashion to any


Monarchy & Democracy in the 21st Century

Future of Thai Monarchy Like any other human institution, the Thai Monarchy has to evolve with time. Major royal-related institutes such as the Privy Council and Crown Property Bureau are no exception. In general the Thai public respect the royal institutes with positive views. Albeit this trend, it is imperative to improve the public perception of the royal institutions by making them transparent and accessible by ordinary people. As the Thai society becomes more open and democratic, the ever- changing Thai psyche will become a major variable. Amendments to lèse majesté laws including rule of procedures concerning royal-related activities should be encouraged as they do not mean the erosion of loyalty or diminishing roles of the new perception of younger generations. Whoever succeeds King Bhumibol will His Majesty’s replacement will have an impact on the relevance of the monarchy, democratisation and Thai lives. As long as the Thai monarchy continues to provide social and political stability under the current democratic framework, its existence the symbol of unity, and a revered icon in Thailand. His Majesty will represent the continuity of history and the expression of the totality of Thai people.

Kavi Chongkittavorn is the senior editor of The Nation media group in Bangkok, Thailand.



Lessons from Japan’s Symbolic Monarchy

Kenneth J. Ruoff

Introduction and Background The world’s youngest democracy, Bhutan, is also its newest constitutional monarchy. Famous for the concept of Gross National Happiness (GNH), Bhutan recently transformed itself from an absolutist monarchy to a democratic constitutional monarchy with the King as head of state. The Monarch’s role in practice under the new constitution will take shape in the coming years, with the King continuing to intersect with politics but in a more ceremonial fashion than previously.

In May 2009, the Bhutan Centre for Media and Democracy hosted a small group of scholars and journalists versed in issues of democracy and monarchy at a conference in Paro, Bhutan. As the author of the book The People’s Emperor:

Democracy and the Japanese Monarchy, 1945-1995 as well as of various essays about Japan’s monarchy, I was one of the invitees. My role was to introduce suggestions from Japan’s model that might prove useful to Bhutan, examples of which I shall share below along with lessons in other areas that Bhutan offers Japan, the United States, and other industrialised, advanced democracies. Japan’s symbolic monarchy is more than six decades old, and Japan’s experience in this area suggests some lessons for Bhutan.

First, however, some background on Bhutan is necessary. The Wangchuck Dynasty with keeping their country (population 675,000) safe in a tricky part of the world. Bhutan shares borders with the two “elephants” in the area, India and China. Nonetheless, Bhutan has guarded not only its independence but also a strong sense of national identity. Bhutan maintains close ties with India, but does not have diplomatic relations with China.


Monarchy & Democracy in the 21st Century

When the fourth King, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, ascended the throne in 1972, Bhutan suffered from high rates of poverty, illiteracy, and infant mortality. King Jigme Singye Wangchuck committed himself to developing Bhutan to improve the lives of his people, but on terms that seem prescient from today’s perspective.

In order to provide a blueprint for his country’s development King Jigme Singye Wangchuck, in the late 1970s, devised the concept of GNH. GNH has four pillars in the present government’s interpretation: equitable and sustainable socio-economic development; preservation and promotion of cultural and spiritual heritage; conservation of the environment; and good governance, which complements the above principles. The King wanted Bhutan to develop, but not at the cost of destroying its environment or by losing its cultural heritage.

In the succeeding decades Bhutan made considerable strides in areas such as literacy (now at 55% and rising quickly) and poverty reduction, but under the leadership of King Jigme Singye Wangchuck the country did not waver from the policy of GNH. The fourth King was revered as a benevolent Monarch whose priority was the welfare of his people.

Thus it came as a shock to most people in Bhutan when, in 2005, King Jigme Singye Wangchuck voluntarily announced that he would be abdicating in favour of his son as part of a process to transform Bhutan into a democracy. The King was not under pressure to share power from, for example, a rising bourgeoisie, making his decision to relinquish power all the more remarkable. However, many people in Bhutan, far from being happy about this rare instance of a Monarch voluntarily ceding his power in favour of democratic rule, were opposed to such a move by their beloved King.

But King Jigme Singye Wangchuck insisted that what his country needed was not simply an individual ruler but rather a system of rule. In rapid succession, King Jigme Singye Wangchuck followed through on his promise to abdicate (2006), Bhutan’s leaders authored the Constitution of the Kingdom of Bhutan the symbol of unity of the Kingdom and of the people of Bhutan,” Bhutan held 2008), and then Bhutan celebrated a grand coronation (November 2008) in order 1980), on the throne.


Lessons from Japan’s Symbolic Monarchy

In a country that was not only accustomed to, but also in fact welcomed the King’s playing the leading role in the political process, how are Bhutan’s newly elected leaders to steer the country’s nascent democracy in a way that keeps the King above politics? At the same time, how can King Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuck, who maintains immense moral authority, continue to play an important societal role in improving his country?

The Importance of Keeping the Monarch Outside Politics The “imperial will” was central to Japan’s political system under the Meiji Constitution of 1889. The postwar Constitution, in contrast, rendered it constitutionally insupportable to invoke the imperial will to justify policies. Nonetheless Emperor decades after the war, and many people were accustomed to the imperial will. Fortunately most Japanese politicians came to understand that policies had to be devised and instituted in the name of the people, and that it simply was no longer acceptable to employ the Emperor in order to curry favour for policies.

While in Bhutan I watched footage of King Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuck’s 2008 coronation, and the displays of reverence that some of his countrymen displayed toward him remind me of scenes from Emperor Showa’s tours to rural show peasants prostrating themselves in deference to Emperor Showa. King Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuck is by all accounts humble and also mixes easily with his countrymen, but it was clear from those scenes during the coronation ceremony as well as from talking to Bhutan’s political leaders that the young King enjoys tremendous authority.

Thus, there may come moments when it will be extremely tempting for Bhutan’s elected leaders, frustrated with the messy process involved with making policy in a democracy, to invoke the authority of the King in order to push through such and such bill. They must resist this temptation at all costs if the new system of constitutional monarchy is to mature. This means that not only must the elected leaders avoid invoking the King in parliamentary debates, but those ministers who

among Japanese at large, government ministers (especially the Prime Minister) and


Monarchy & Democracy in the 21st Century

a custom is not out of line with the practices of other symbolic monarchies such as Britain and Spain.

According to many accounts Japan’s present Emperor, Akihito (1933-), depending the Emperor’s views on various issues. The same was true of Emperor Showa. Japan’s national symbol is a human being, after all, and the Emperor has opinions on various matters. No doubt the same is true of Bhutan’s young King.

are absolutely forbidden from making public the content of their conversations with the Emperor during his lifetime (prime ministers who brief the Queen in Britain observe the same rule). To make the emperor’s comments public would be to involve him in politics, which is not acceptable.

Japanese politicians have made only a few mistakes in this area in the past six decades, the most famous of which occurred in 1973 and resulted in swift and severe consequences for the individual who leaked the Emperor’s remarks. After Masuhara Keikichi, Chief of the Defence Agency, shared with reporters comments supported a defence build-up, Masuhara was forced to resign within days as a result of a general uproar over his apparent use of the Emperor for political ends.

Along the same lines the political views of King Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuck servants continue to brief the King on political matters. It may seem strange to be recommending secrecy to a new democracy that is struggling to establish transparency in governmental matters, but, ironically enough, in the case of the In most other areas, including in reference to issues such as the amount of public money used to support the monarchy, transparency would be best in Bhutan, but

Prime Minister Lyonchhoen Jigmi Y. Thinley recognises the need for discretion. During a meeting on 20 May, he stressed that in light of the King’s authority there


Lessons from Japan’s Symbolic Monarchy

that might compromise the country’s young democracy.

National Unity and Identity Buddhism is central to Bhutan’s national identity. Article 3.1 of the new constitution reads: “Buddhism is the spiritual heritage of Bhutan, which promotes the principles and values of peace, non-violence, compassion and tolerance.” In fact the new constitution requires that the King be Buddhist (in this sense, Bhutan’s system is religions. Buddhist symbolism was central to the coronation even if the state itself is now secular.

The extent to which Buddhism continues to be woven into the daily lives of people in Bhutan is evidenced by the fact that many of the items constituting “The Dragon’s Gift: Sacred Art of Bhutan,” an exhibition now touring internationally, were borrowed from private homes where they continue to serve profoundly religious purposes. There is little question that Buddhism will continue in part to security.

But Bhutan is also changing fast now that it has opened itself to the world. Approximately half of the people now own cell phones, and television, especially programmes from India, is presently the rage. Although a majority of individuals still make their living through agriculture, the country is rapidly urbanising. Certain traditions no longer appeal to the young, much to the concern of some of their elders.

The young Oxford-educated King thus faces the question of which aspects of global culture to embrace (democracy being one important example), and which to keep at bay. At the same time he is faced with the same question regarding domestic traditions. Which traditions are worth preserving, and which should be discarded?

Japan’s Monarchs have also faced these questions during the modern period, most


Monarchy & Democracy in the 21st Century

similar choices. For example it was Emperor Taisho (born to a concubine in 1879; d. 1926) who established the system of monogamous marriage in the royal house, something that his son, Emperor Showa, subsequently observed. The system of

In the same way that Japan’s imperial family members lend their prestige to their country’s traditional arts (e.g., waka), King Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuck has These traditions include hand-woven textiles that tourists snap up with delight not to mention dazzling Buddhist art ranging from bronze statues to silk paintings.

Monarchies are often thought of as bastions of tradition, but they also are often at the forefront of modernisation as well. One only has to think of Emperor Meiji and his family being inoculated for smallpox during an epidemic in 1875, a time when many people feared vaccinations.

In a country with a population of 675,000 it is literally possible for the young King, during the course of his reign, to reach out individually to each and every one of his countrymen, an advantageous situation that cannot be duplicated in Japan. During a recent 25-day domestic tour that included visits to remote villages, King Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuck demonstrated his belief that certain superstitions are in fact harmful and should be discarded.

Walking between two remote villages in March of this year, the King met Tashi Wangmo, a woman ostracised in her community as a “poison giver”. In certain rural villages, there are families who have been ostracised for generations because they are seen as being cursed, and thus fellow villagers refuse to receive food or drink from them. Someone from the King’s entourage who had scouted ahead

Instead the King reached out to Tashi Wangmo by presenting her a rosary and asking her to pour some ara (locally brewed alcohol) into his cup, which he then drank. The King asked the woman to tell her fellow villagers that the King had drunk from the so-called poison-giver, which proved to be a life-changing event for her. By this simple act, the King had broken the curse that had plagued this woman’s family for generations. It was the sort of benevolent act with tremendous symbolic resonance from the young King to which people in Bhutan are quickly becoming accustomed.


Lessons from Japan’s Symbolic Monarchy

The 29 year-old King has not yet married. The case of Japan, especially in the post- the royal house’s connection with the people. The 1959 marriage of the present Emperor and Empress dramatically linked the monarchy to what at the time was a burgeoning new middle class that held dear such post-war values as equality (the present empress, Michiko, came from outside the former nobility) and liberty (the marriage was interpreted as a love match).

Much about Bhutan young King’s reign, including the selection of a bride, is still taking shape, but unless the constitution is amended his time on the throne will end in 2045. The constitution requires the Monarch to abdicate upon reaching 65 years of age.

Lessons from Bhutan It is no secret that Bhutan is not a major international player in terms of economic or military might, but in the realm of ideas it has made a name for itself that is disproportionate to its size as a result of the concept of GNH. GNH was a guiding principle in the writing of the new constitution, which includes some intriguing articles.

Consider, for example, the following two articles:

5.2. The Royal Government shall:

(a) Protect, conserve and improve the pristine environment and safeguard the

biodiversity of the country;


Prevent pollution and ecological degradation;










(d) Ensure a safe and healthy environment.

5.3. The Government shall ensure that, in order to conserve the country’s natural resources and to prevent degradation of the ecosystem, a minimum of sixty percent of Bhutan’s total land shall be maintained under forest cover for all time.


Monarchy & Democracy in the 21st Century

Is there another country in the world that constitutionally requires that sixty percent of the national territory be maintained as forest? Most of the developed countries protect what nature was left. Unfortunately, many of the countries developing today are making the same mistake.

place. Approximately one-third of the country is already under special protection as part of the national park system. Of course, Bhutan is not a utopia. For example, litter has recently become a problem in Paro, where the country’s one airport is located and where, frankly, perhaps too many resorts have already been built. Nonetheless, Bhutan’s long-standing, tenacious commitment to environmental protection is undeniable and admirable.

Obviously Japan has also adopted many worthwhile environmental policies. However, it is also true that huge amounts of concrete continues to be poured throughout the archipelago in projects that sustained the alliance between the construction industry and the recently dethroned Liberal Democratic Party, but which are not only of dubious practical value but are also environmentally destructive.

Although I think that the next lesson from Bhutan is particularly relevant to my own country, the United States, where the wealth gap has grown to disgraceful between rich and poor. Although those individuals in Bhutan who practice subsistence agriculture (even as urbanites roar past in their automobiles) may view the matter differently, it is nonetheless the case that Bhutan does not have the sort of sickening discrepancies between rich and poor that characterise so many other countries, both developed and developing ones.

Bhutan would do well to keep the wealth gap as minimal as possible, and the King should (and from what we know of him, likely will) employ his immense moral authority in support of this goal. In any case, Article 9.7 mandates the government of Bhutan to minimise gaps in wealth: “The State shall endeavour to develop and execute policies to minimise inequalities of income, concentration of wealth, and promote equitable distribution of public facilities among individuals and people living in different parts of the Kingdom.”


Lessons from Japan’s Symbolic Monarchy

Article 25 of the Constitution of Japan: “All people shall have the right to maintain the minimum standards of wholesome and cultured living. In all spheres of life, the State shall use its endeavours for the promotion and extension of social welfare and security, and of public health.”

Many Americans would probably denounce Article 9.7 of Bhutan’s Constitution as “socialistic”. This is ironic because scholars who have looked carefully at the United States often interpret the country as practicing socialism for the rich through special tax breaks and other government programmes even while the poor are required to live according to the market. Bhutan should avoid this aspect of the American model.

Kenneth J. Ruoff Oregon, USA.

is Professor of

History at Portland State University,



The Story of the Demise of Nepal’s Monarchy

Sudhindra Sharma

On June 19, 2008, monarchy ended in Nepal when the elected constituent assembly endorsed the country as a Federal Democratic Republic. 1 The main political force calling for an end to monarchy in Nepal was the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), which had launched an insurgency in the Himalayan Kingdom from 1996 onwards, among others, to oust what it regarded to be the “feudal” monarchical institution. King Gyanendra had become increasingly isolated when the parliamentarian parties, the Nepali Congress (NC) and United Marxist- Leninist (UML), in particular, joined hands with the Maoists through a 12-point Memorandum of Understanding signed in November 2005 in New Delhi, to bring an end to the King’s absolute rule.

King Gyanendra Bikram Shah Dev eventually had to step down in April 2006 following 19 days of relentless mass demonstrations throughout the country. He handed over the executive authority to the reinstated parliament, which expanded to include the Maoist rebels. The Maoist members of the parliament along with MPs from other political parties passed a resolution calling for an end to the institution of monarchy and changed the status of the state from a Hindu Monarchical Kingdom to a secular, democratic, and federal republic. Thus ended the over two millennium-old monarchical institution of Nepal, and with it, the Shah dynasty, which had helped form the modern Nepali state in 1769. Aside from student activists of various political parties, there was no mass jubilation at the ousting of the centuries-old institution, nor was sorrow openly expressed - at least



not on the streets. Neither exuberance nor anguish marked the termination of the centuries-old institution of monarchy in Nepal.

This paper examines monarchy in Nepal. It begins with the circumstances leading to the emergence of the state of Nepal in the late eighteenth century and the role of Prithvi Narayan Shah, in this process. The paper then focuses on the milieu, personalities and contributions of four Monarchs: Tribhuvan, Mahendra, Birendra and Gyanendra. Political events leading to the ouster of the monarchy following the royal massacre in June 2001 are then analysed along with a discussion of the factors that made King Gyanendra increasingly unpopular. Lastly, the contribution of monarchy to Nepal is assessed.

King Prithvi Narayan Shah and the Emergence of Modern Nepal Gorkha’s victory over the Malla dynasty ruled kingdoms of the valley. The subjugation of the valley was an important turning point in the expansion of the Gorkhali Empire in the central and eastern Himalayas. King Prithvi Narayan Shah, who led the Gorkhalis in their conquest, was able to expand the dominion of the House of Gorkha, a small principality in central Nepal, not only through military conquest but also through marriage alliances and diplomacy (Blakie). Before the nomenclature ‘Nepal’ gained ascendancy from early nineteenth century onwards, the land used to be known as the “Gorkha ra bhar muluk” underscoring the territory as the dominion of the House of Gorkha.

While Prithvi Narayan Shah deposed the erstwhile rulers of the valley (either through banishment or death sentence), he nevertheless sought the blessings of Taleju Bhavani, the titular deity of the Malla Kings. 2 Likewise, while the new king took over the land and property belonging to the Malla kings and their military commanders, he recognised all the land that had been gifted by the previous dynasty to ascetics, temples, and Brahmins. These gestures indicated a degree of religio-cultural continuity: when Prithvi Narayan Shah deposed the Malla kings of the valley, his intention was not to loot and plunder but to govern the new possessions by integrating these into his ancestral possessions.


Monarchy & Democracy in the 21st Century

Though Nepal, in the perceptions of its rulers, was a Hindu state, the monarchs did not see themselves as dev-raja. The ideas articulated by the rulers of this peripheral land, were those of cultural uniqueness and a claim to the continuation of a civilisation that had been displaced at the centre of Indian-Hindu civilisation.

From the thirteenth century onwards, with the consolidation of Muslim rule over much of north India, kingship in Nepal evolved along a different path from that of India. As Max Weber notes, Muslim conquest of India not only deposed Hindu kings, but also made redundant the services of the Brahmins as interpreters of the shastras and as advisers in the administration and the judiciary (Weber). This is because the various Islamic dynasties that ruled the Indo-Gangetic plains derived their legitimacy from a different tradition. The Islamic clergy or ulema, versed in the Koran, Hadith and the Shariat, played the role in Islamic sultanates that Brahmins played in Hindu kingdoms.

The persistence in the symbiotic relationship between Brahmin priesthood and Kshatriya kingship in Nepal and its severance in India led Hinduism to evolve along different lines in Nepal (Sharma, “Hindu State” and “Hindu Adhirajya”). It was thus that right up to the early part of the twentieth century, Brahmins played chaturvarnashram dharma - the four stages of life and four varnas. 3

By the seventeenth century the rulers of the petty kingdoms of the Himalaya saw themselves in some sense as being Hindu, 4 meaning by this primarily that they were not Muslims. Conversely, the Ganges basin was referred to not as Hindustan, but


From Monarchical Shahs to Rana Shoguns The campaign begun by the Shah King during the late eighteenth century was to be consolidated by the regents of the incipient state during the early nineteenth century. During the same period, once the young state’s interests collided with that of the British East India Company and its ambitions were curtailed and territorial century or so.

By the end of the eighteenth century, the relation of incorporated principalities to the Gorkhali State was predominantly a tributary one. The state was maintained by the appropriation of agricultural surpluses from the peasants. In contrast to thriving trade during the Malla times with the takeover of the valley by Prithvi Narayan in 1769, the contribution of trade to state coffers drastically diminished. The new Gorkhali rulers, suspicious that traders, particularly foreign ones, were informants of foreign powers, discouraged foreign traders from trading in the kingdom. For instance, soon after taking over he expelled the gosain ("Indian ascetic") merchants, while British attempts to establish trading relations and access to Tibet were similarly rebuffed (Whelpton, John 2005).

King’s power waned and state reign went effectively into the hands of military families. During the same period, the young state’s interests collided with that of the British East India Company regarding the ownership of the recently acquired territory in the central Tarai, which resulted in the 1814-1816 war. The expansion of the young Nepali state was halted by the defeat to the forces of the British East India Company that reduced its size by one third. One of the conditions of the treaty was to accept a permanent British representative (resident) in Kathmandu. 5

Competition for the control of the state led to bloody struggles between different military families. From 1846 state machinery went effectively into the hands of one family - the Ranas. The power of this family was consolidated through the institution of hereditary prime ministership. During this period, the King was the



Monarchy & Democracy in the 21st Century

While the Shah Monarchs were referred to as Maharajadhiraj, the Rana prime minister was referred to as Maharaja.

The person who ushered in the rule of Ranas as the de facto rulers in Nepal from 1846 to 1951 was Jang Bahadur. The man had humble beginnings, having come from a military family that had assisted King Prithvi Narayan Shah in his campaigns. The contacts he had with the Crown Prince helped him gain access to the court. After consolidating his rule in the country by annihilating his rivals, he sought to establish amicable relations with the British. This was important in that from 1816 onwards, with the establishment of the residency in the valley, the British were closely monitoring events in Nepal. In 1850, Jang Bahadur visited England and the taboo on crossing the kala-pani (or the "black ocean"). After having gained a that it would be prudent to ally with the British rather than go against them - a policy that was to be followed by his clan and which was to yield it dividends for another century. 6

The Ranas, as Nepal’s hereditary prime ministers and maharajas, were able to maintain the country’s independence, so to speak, by being faithful allies of the British. Unwavering support to the British - even in times of duress such as during mutinies, wars, and independence movement - meant that the British, in turn, reciprocated. This was also the main reason that their rule was to last as long as it did.

King Tribhuvan, Nepal’s 1951 Revolution, and Monarchy as the Locus of the State Independent India, in particular the government at that time headed by the Indian National Congress, was sympathetic towards the Nepali Congress. The Congress was formed in the then-British India during the 1940's, and the leaders had participated in India’s independence movement. Post-colonial India’s role in Nepal’s transition of 1950-51 was to bring two rival institutions into the centre- stage of Nepali politics: assertive monarchy and political parties.


The Story of the Demise of Nepal’s Monarchy

The end to the century-old Rana Shogun came rather abruptly. In 1947, India gained independence and the new democratic rulers of India, especially the Indian National Congress that soon formed the government, were not as sympathetic towards the Ranas, as had been the Imperial British. From within India there was a campaign by the Nepali Congress against the regime. Various Congresses formed in India, including the one started by “C” class Ranas, were amalgamated in 1950 and the new political party was simply called the Nepali Congress. The Nepali Congress launched an armed revolt against the Ranas the same year. They formed an alliance with King Tribhuvan in their attempt to topple the Ranas.

After King Tribhuvan was implicated in conspiracy against the Ranas, he sought asylum at the Indian embassy in November 1950. Soon the rebel forces under the leadership of the Nepali Congress began attacking Nepal’s bordering towns in the Tarai. In the face of deteriorating military strength and desertion of government troops to the rebel side, the Rana regime began to buckle under pressure. With anti-Rana initiatives of the Nepali Congress receiving covert support from

In short, the withdrawal of the British from India and the insurrectionary activities of the Nepali Congress were causes for the collapse of the Ranas. In addition, the very legitimacy on which Rana rule was based rapidly eroded when King those opposed to the Rana regime. In 1951, after being eclipsed for a century and a half, monarchy, i.e. the Shah dynasty, was reinstated as the supreme authority in Nepal.

The event of 1951 is a story of a legitimate, though powerless, King risking his throne for the sake of his common people. Underlying the event is the story of rather than with the nobility who belonged to his own class. It is this narrative that helped boost the image of monarchy as a caring institution and this image eventually helped it come to the centre-stage of Nepali politics. It was primarily this narrative that bestowed legitimacy and sanctity to the institution of monarchy.

The reinstatement of Shah Kings as the centre of power in Nepal was accompanied the King’s empathy and association with the common-folk: out went the Anglicised


Monarchy & Democracy in the 21st Century

dress worn by the Rana aristocracy, and in came the simple Nepali daura-surwal; out went the courtly language (the “hazuur” culture), and in came the simple Nepali language (the “tapai” culture); out went the gestures associated with courtly culture such as “swasti” and in came the simple “namaste” form of greeting. The enlightened rulers of princely states had probably undertaken this transition during the 1930's when the independence movement led by the Indian National Congress gained momentum: their transition and transformation probably became the template for fashioning a democratic and pro-India-oriented monarchy in the region.

The 1951 revolution had, in one stroke, changed the peasantry from subjects to citizens. It helped transform those whom had been the subjects of feudal lords of an autocratic regime into citizens of a democratic country. The 1951 event brought abrupt change to a society that had been accustomed to tradition. The seclusion of Nepal that the Rana rulers had painstakingly enforced ended, and eventually led to new movements that were to have wide-ranging repercussions on at engagement with modernity (Khanal).

In the new narration of the monarchy, the contribution of the Ranas, especially in ensuring Nepal’s independence and sovereignty, were generally glossed over. In history textbooks, the Ranas have generally been portrayed as the ruling class that deliberately kept Nepal backward. 7

Nepal in the 1950’s and 1960’s forces of tradition in the 1950’s were still quite strong. The traditional elements of society, including much of the Rana family itself, were to later regroup and make a comeback: they were to regroup around King Mahendra, who did not share his father’s democratic convictions.

was far from stable. The decade of the 1950’s has been characterised as a period of experimentation with democracy where Cabinets were formed and dissolved, Advisory Assemblies established and re-established, and parties created and


The Story of the Demise of Nepal’s Monarchy

fragmented. The unstable nature of the polity, in the aftermath of the overthrow of the Rana rule, was to help strengthen the hands of the monarchy since it was more often than not, the King who would call upon the leaders of political parties to form the government.

Things were changing on the international front during the 1950’s. The Chinese takeover of Tibet in 1949 created worries for both the United States and India. The United State’s diplomatic relations with Nepal had begun from 1947 and after 1950, the Americans saw Nepal as a frontline state against communism and began providing aid.

1951, four months after the overthrow of Rana rule. Later in the same year, an Indian military mission arrived in Kathmandu to modernise the Gauchar airport and build a road from the Indian border to Kathmandu.

Nepal became a member of the United Nations in 1955 and the Colombo Plan in 1956; this assured it of durable foreign assistance. It was at around the same period

With the removal of the Ranas from the centre-stage of Nepal’s statecraft, the army saw the King as their chief and from 1952 began regarding the King as the supreme commander-in-chief. This further bolstered the position of the monarchy at the cost of the political parties. However, monarchy in Nepal did not make itself assertive from 1951 onwards; its assertiveness was a gradual process and one that spanned several years.

In February 1959 a parliamentary election under a constitution promulgated by King Mahendra was held. Nepali Congress won a two third majority in the formed with BP Koirala as the Prime Minister. Despite the progress made by the Koirala government, King Mahendra was not happy with it. Likewise, an assertive monarchy’s ambition to maintain control over government was hindered by the determined, popularly elected, and internationally recognised prime minister. As a result, King Mahendra, using the emergency powers vested in him by the then-


Monarchy & Democracy in the 21st Century

constitution, arrested BP Koirala, dissolved the parliament, and assumed executive authority of the country on the 15th of December 1960.

King Mahendra, Assertive Monarchy, and Modernisation Some have tended to characterise Mahendra’s action in 1960 as a ‘coup’; however, the event cannot be called a coup since the monarchy had been granted residual powers by the 1959 Constitution and Mahendra had used these very provisions when he took action against the B.P. Koirala government. Though his action was constitutional, it was, however, not warranted; the situation within the country was normal and did not call for the declaration of emergency. Though King Mahendra was eventually able to sideline and marginalise his opponents, this action by the King was a breach of trust with the political leaders and tarnished the image of the monarchy. The symbolic capital and goodwill that the institution had earned through King Tribhuvan’s gesture in 1950/51, was undermined by the actions of King Mahendra in the event of 1960. (While Tribhuvan’s gesture had highlighted monarchy’s alliance with people and with democracy, Mahendra’s gesture underscored the Monarch’s parting of ways with people, its leaders and democracy.)

King Mahendra was able to do what he did because the traditional forces in society were quite strong at the time. The army, whose upper echelons comprised of the old Rana nobility, was behind him. For the new educated classes, there were few employment opportunities aside from the bureaucracy and the threat of their being expelled soon cowered many into accepting King Mahendra’s actions.

The Nepali Congress seriously challenged the King’s move, and an insurrection soon got underway in parts of the Tarai through India’s tacit support. Soon the geo- politics of the region changed dramatically with repercussions in the insurrection. There had been long-standing disputes between India and China in the Himalayas, which had been simmering for some time. In 1962 China launched a massive attack in Indian territories in the Himalayas; as a consequence, India’s security of the entire Himalayan region became vulnerable. The Indian government stopped providing aid to the Nepali Congress; it had been doing so tacitly in the interest of India’s security in the Himalayan region. This dramatic shift in geo-politics worked in the King’s favour.

King Mahendra was able to shore up his legitimacy by various other means. He soon promulgated a new civil code that ended the state patronage to the caste system. He enacted a land reform - something that had been discussed in the


The Story of the Demise of Nepal’s Monarchy

upper ceiling of land a family could own and was generally perceived to favour the lower classes. Besides these, he continued with the modernising thrust initiated by the Koirala government. Moves such as these, to a certain extent, redeemed the Monarch in the eyes of the common people.

Despite the monarchy monopolising state privileges, King Mahendra initiated various other changes such as the abolishment of vassal states and vassal kings and decentralisation of the administration. Though the popularly elected B.P. Koirala government and the nominated governments that had preceded it had begun many of these initiatives (such as planned economic development), the King gave continuity to these. The bureaucracy manned by the newly educated elites, many of whom had received their education in India, continued the modernisation thrust even after the mantle was taken over by King Mahendra from B.P. Koirala (Dixit).

King Birendra: Transition from Absolute to Constitutional Monarchy The Constitution promulgated in 1962 introduced a form of ‘guided’ democracy, known as the Panchayat system, which was a system of government with the King at the apex of the political body. The Constitution banned political parties. It vested sovereignty and powers of the state in the person of the King and underscored the role of the King as the creator and custodian of the Constitution, while simultaneously making him an active political agent. The Constitution of 1962 three decades, until a popular peoples movement known as Jana-andolan forced King Birendra, Mahendra’s elder son, to abrogate it.

It would not be wrong to characterise the period of assertive monarchy in Nepal as a period that ushered in modernisation in the country. Modernisation of Nepal under an active Monarch was possible because of a combination of both internal and external factors. Internally, a new set of political leaders and bureaucrats at the helms of the state aspired to modernise Nepal; externally, the international aid era had begun.

King Birendra, unlike his father Mahendra, was more positively-disposed towards democracy. Moreover, he had an acute political sense: knowing when to persist and when to diffuse an impending crisis, and when to step down altogether. When the agitation led by students, joined later by school and college teachers and other


Monarchy & Democracy in the 21st Century

professionals, gained momentum in 1979-80, King Birendra called for a plebiscite asking the people to choose between a multi-party democracy or a reformed Panchayat system. The latter won and the Panchayat (for example direct election to the national assembly in place of indirect elections), continued for another decade and, as in earlier decades, the Monarch continued to reign as well as to rule (Dixit).

Things came to a boil once again in 1989. The economic embargo, imposed by India as well as the increased involvement of various professional groups to oppose the Panchayat, were factors that helped build up the momentum of the movement. The willingness of Nepali Congress and the Communist Parties of Nepal to join hands in a united struggle was decisive in that the movement was able to create enough pressure for King Birendra to open the door for a multi-party democracy, an interim government, and a new constitution.

The 1990 Constitution envisioned a Westminster-type of democracy with parliamentary democracy and constitutional monarchy. For a King who had been an active political leader for two decades, Birendra took easily to his new role in which he was expected to reign and not to rule. 8 Over the next decade or so, the country’s governance was in the hands of the political parties. The role of the Monarch centred on cultural and religious activities and that of the ceremonial head of the state (Dixit). With the politically un-involved King, the image of monarchy however, was to end on the fateful night of June 1, 2001.

On the night of June 1, 2001, a gruesome massacre took place within the Narayanhiti Palace premises that resulted in the death of King Birendra, Queen Aishwarya and 11 other members of the royal family when (according to a report by the government-formed commission) Crown Prince Dipendra pulled the trigger on his family and ultimately on himself. The remaining younger brother of late King Birendra, Prince Gyanendra, who was out of Kathmandu when the incident occurred, was crowned the new King.


The Story of the Demise of Nepal’s Monarchy

Since 1996 the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), referred to subsequently as the Maoists, had launched a ‘People’s War’ aimed at ending the Westminster- type democracy, including the monarchy, and instituting in their place, a People’s Republic. Multi-party democracy, reinstated from 1990 onwards, may not have delivered on political stability and governance - but none of the political parties that functioned under the 1990 Constitution espoused violence as a means of political change. This was no longer the case with the rise of the Maoists, who believed in and unhesitatingly deployed brute force to bring about political changes. This in turn led to the introduction of a coercive element in Nepali politics, and eventually was to cause upheavals in Nepali society and societal relationships.

Gyanendra was enthroned as the new monarch in June 2001. As Supreme Commander-in-chief of the Royal Nepalese Army, he gave his acquiescence to the deployment of the army to quell the Maoist insurgency. Unlike King Birendra, who had restricted the elected government from using the RNA against the Maoists, King Gyanendra showed no such hesitation and allowed government to undertake operations against the Maoists. More extensive operations of the army done by

The 12 years of experiments with multi-party democracy ended in May 2002 when minister took pre-emptive action by dissolving the House when his own party members challenged the government. This time, however, the actions of the prime minister resulted in a constitutional crisis when after six months he was unable to hold an election, citing security reasons for his inability to do so. He was summarily sacked by the Head of State, King Gyanendra, for being unable to hold elections as mandated by the Constitution. This action by the Monarch, unfortunately, not only heralded a constitutional crisis (in that the 1990 Constitution did not have any provision as to what should be done in such circumstances) but precipitated a re-alignment of political actors: in particular, it led to the parliamentarian political parties aligning themselves with the Maoists.

Deuba’s dismissal was followed by King Gyanendra nominating prime ministers using Article 127 of the constitution. Each of the nominated prime ministers’ tenure was short-lived. Although the King-nominated governments attempted to build rapport - however fragile - between the various political actors including the Maoists, they were largely unsuccessful in committing political parties for


Monarchy & Democracy in the 21st Century

fresh elections. As a consequence, on February 1 st , 2005, the King declared a state of emergency, took back executive powers, formed a cabinet under his own chairmanship and promised to hold a general election within three years, after which he would handover executive power to the elected parliament.

With the King’s dramatic actions on February 1st, 2005, the country witnessed a major re-alignment of political forces with the seven party alliance and the Maoists moving closer to one another. Whether it was on the question of constituent assembly or the monarchy, the stance taken by the political parties had, in the months following February 1 st , increasingly gravitated towards the Maoist agenda, whose bottom line was constituent assembly elections that would draft and then ratify a new constitution. Nepali Congress, a political party that had professed constitutional monarchy and multi-party democracy since its inception, decided to remove any mention of constitutional monarchy from its statute during the party convention in September 2005. UML was more equivocal in deciding whether to adopt democratic republicanism through elections to a constituent assembly.

In November 2005, the leaders of the seven party alliance and the Maoists reached an understanding whereby both political actors agreed to establish peace outlet, stating that the long struggle between autocratic monarchy and democracy in Nepal had reached a very grave and decisive turn in Nepali history. 9

The course of action proposed by the Monarch to overcome the constitutional crisis was to hold local elections for municipality followed by election for the lower house of parliament and then eventually to hand over executive authority to this elected parliament. King Gyanendra seemed to be pursuing this line of action seriously. The date for municipal elections was announced for 8 February 2006. This was viewed as a prelude to the national election. But the Maoists, in spite of commitments made in the memorandum of understanding, went on a blitz by attacking the state security forces, candidates for municipal elections, and even bandh, in order to deter people from participating in the municipal elections. This paid off when the turnout to the municipal election was 22 percent - lower than had been anticipated.

Added to the estrangement of the royal government was the precarious economic

9 ! !The! Kathmandu%Post


The Story of the Demise of Nepal’s Monarchy

years 2000 to 2004, there was a decline in expenditure in the economic sector while security spending increased dramatically. Foreign aid, an important source of funding for the aid-dependant state, was not forthcoming when most of Nepal’s bilateral and multilateral donors, objecting to the King’s action on February 1st, 2005, were unwilling to sign new agreements with the government. This trend, coupled with increasing budgetary allocations to the Royal Palace when the overall economy was deteriorating, had begun to make the monarchy unpopular among the masses. These events exacerbated the people's mistrust of the King.

As the King increasingly began to become alienated from the people, the Maoists rendered themselves closer to the common folk by transforming their public persona. As early as late 2005, the Maoists were keen to shed their image as an extremist group that espoused violence to achieve political goals, and had begun projecting themselves as a moderate political party championing the cause of republicanism.

In April 2006, mass street protests known as People’s Movement II, organised by the erstwhile parliamentarian parties and supported by the rebel Maoists, took place. It forced King Gyanendra to step down and to hand over executive authority to the reinstated parliament.

Longitudinal Public Opinion Poll on Orientation towards the Monarchy People’s orientation to the monarchy underwent dramatic changes between 2004 and 2008 – the period when Nepal was going through tumultuous political changes. Among others, the People’s Movement II of April 2006 seems to have led to a dramatic shift in public opinion. Data generated by a longitudinal opinion survey, “Nepal Contemporary Political Situation” (or NCPS survey), conducted in December 2004, showed that 81 percent supported monarchy in some form or another. 10 2006, a few months subsequent to the People’s Movement II. The support for monarchy further dwindled in 2007 to 45 percen,t after which it then stabilised. By January 2008 when the question was last asked in the NCPS V, some 49 percent



Monarchy & Democracy in the 21st Century

favoured retaining the institution, 43 percent favoured abolishing it while another 10 percent were undecided.

Those who preferred to retain the institution wanted to do so because monarchy was seen as “part of tradition” and because “the forefather of the present king formed Nepal”. Those who preferred to abolish the institution wanted to do so because monarchy was perceived as “a feudal and exploitative institution” and because the monarchy “didn’t develop the country”. What the survey data reveals is that just a few months prior to its termination, a majority still preferred retaining the institution. 11

To Retain or to Terminate: Debates on Monarchy in Nepal Arguments against King Gyanendra came primarily from two camps: those who wanted to retain the monarchical institution but were unhappy with what the King was doing, and those who wanted to abrogate the institution itself. The writings of two individuals - Kanak Mani Dixit and Baburam Bhattarai - exemplify these two camps. 12

The writings of Kanak Mani Dixit, a journalist, exemplify a position that advocates constitutional-ceremonial monarchy while simultaneously chiding King Gyanendra for taking wrong political decisions. In various writings in Himal South Asia and Himal Khabarpatrika between 2002 and 2006, Dixit argues that King Gyanendra’s ambitious political decisions from October 2002 onwards, and particularly from February 2005 onwards, have been very wrong. In strong words, Dixit writes how Monarch and how these could ultimately be a liability for the institution itself.


12 chat8satsana8phramahakasat


The Story of the Demise of Nepal’s Monarchy

The position that disagrees in principle with the institution of monarchy and Communist Party of Nepal (Maoists). Bhattarai’s writings on the Nepali monarchy have been put forth in the book Monarchy vs. Democracy: The Epic Fight in Nepal (2005). In the chapter on the relevance of monarchy in Nepal, the author attempts to “demystify” some of the “prevalent misconceptions” about the Nepalese monarchy. Bhattarai lists four points that are made in support of the monarchical institution in Nepal: (1) It is the principle factor of stability in the country; (2) It is the symbol of unity; (3) It needs to be preserved since Nepal is the only Hindu kingdom in the world; (4) It has led to rapid economic development. He attempts to debunk each of these points.

Baburam Bhattarai’s arguments against the monarchy are replete with stereotypes and clichés. This is evident in his portrayal of various Monarchs. For instance, Prithvi Narayan Shah is extolled for his supposed stand against colonialism; Mahendra for his ‘nationalism’; and Birendra for his ‘liberalism’. Although the author claims to demolish the arguments in support of monarchy, he does not actually engage with the arguments at a theoretical or substantive level. Rather, he simply exonerates some Monarchs and admonishes others. Contrary to his claims, Bhattarai makes no substantive arguments against monarchy as an institution.

The Reasons for the Demise of Monarchy in Nepal In broad terms, four reasons could be singled out for leading to the demise of monarchy in Nepal: (1) the palace massacre; (2) the King aspiring to become a “constructive” constitutional Monarch; (3) the Monarch being unable to become a King of the Nepali people(s); and (4) the India equation. Each of these and how they played a role in ending the monarchy in Nepal are summarised.

1. Palace Massacre The palace massacre led to the erosion of the sanctity of the monarchical institution. As a consequence of the massacre, the monarchical institution itself became increasingly de-legitimised in the eyes of the public.

It became de-legitimised for two sets of people - those who believed in the conspiracy theory and those who didn’t - for quite different reasons. For those who saw the incident as a conspiracy hatched by Gyanendra, which, one might add, had a plot very similar to the story of the Lion King, the Walt Disney cartoon blockbuster, the new King was an illegitimate monarch. For this set of people,


Monarchy & Democracy in the 21st Century

the monarchical institution became de-legitimised because the incumbent was an impostor.

For those who did not see the incident as a conspiracy and who had no reason to entirely different reason. What Prince Dipendra - having access to sophisticated weapons, taking to drugs, and killing his parents because they stood in the way of marrying the lady of his choice - underscored is how little the institution resonated with people’s expectations of virtue and tradition from the country’s premier institution. After all, the royalty was massacred not by republicans or Besides exposing the vices of a decadent institution, the incident led people who did not believe in the conspiracy theory to conclude that the institution was not trustworthy: how could they trust an institution that was inept at handing its own members? Thus, for quite different reasons for both sets of people, the sanctity of the monarchical institution was severely undermined. The circumstance in which Gyanendra became King was like an albatross hanging around its neck.

2. King Visualising His Role as a “Constructive” Constitutional Monarchy King Gyanendra, soon after he was crowned the Monarch, began articulating his views on what he thought the role of Monarch should be in Nepal. He expressed his dissatisfaction over the role played by his late brother King Birendra; while he saw his late brother’s role as a “passive” constitutional Monarch, he saw his role as a “constructive” constitutional Monarch. As one constitutional stalemate led to another, he seized the opportunity to expand the scope and role of monarchy, in line with his desire to become a “constructive” Monarch, when eventually he became a full blown, active-assertive King. In the process, the type of monarchy envisaged by the 1990 Constitution was thoroughly desecrated.

There were several landmarks in the transformation of the constitutional monarchy, as envisaged by the 1990 Constitution, to the assumption of active- when he dismissed Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba for being unable to hold national elections. At that time, the Nepali Congress headed by G.P. Koirala had asked for reinstatement of the House of Representatives (which Deuba had dissolved six months earlier with the intentions of holding the election). King Gyanendra believed that the constitutional stalemate could only be overcome


The Story of the Demise of Nepal’s Monarchy

through a new election to the House of Representatives and not by reinstating the dissolved House. Without going into the legality of whether the King’s action and his reliance on Article 127 of the 1990 Constitution at that historical juncture was correct, what becomes apparent is his seizure of the constitutional stalemate, as an opportunity to expand the role and scope of monarchy.

When King Gyanendra took political action in October 2002, basing his actions on Article 127, he envisaged his role as a custodian of the Constitution. However, from being a custodian, he soon became a central political player - something not envisaged by the 1990 Constitution.

This came about in February 2005 when he dismissed the Sher Bahadur Deuba government nominated by himself and assumed executive and state authority. By assuming the responsibility and the authority of a chairman of the government, he became simultaneously the head of the state and the head of the government. With this, the transformation from a constitutional Monarch to active-assertive Monarch was complete, notwithstanding his claims to trusteeship.

The political forces intent on ending monarchy in the country and defeating Gyanendra politically, not surprisingly, portrayed him as a despot and as a tyrant. His persona and circumstances in which he became king did not help much and Gyanendra inadvertently played into this stereotype.

where its sanctity had been severely eroded not only decreased the popularity of King Gyanendra further, his decisions ultimately took its toll in ending the monarchical institution itself.

3. Unable to Become a King of the Nepali Peoples(s) Establishment of formal democracy in 1990 created an environment wherein cultural, ethnic, and religious identities could be expressed, and consequently Nepal began witnessing the assertion of such identities.

When Nepal was being forged as a modern nation in the 1950s, three institutions were involved in constructing the national identity - monarchy (with the recently reinstated Shah Kings as Monarchs), Hinduism, and the Nepali language. Nepal was seen as a single nation tied together by allegiance to monarchy, adherence to Hinduism and bound together by a common lingua franca - Nepali. When the


Monarchy & Democracy in the 21st Century

modern nation was being fashioned during the 1950s, it was not that a plurality of ethnic communities, language groups, and cultures was not recognised - the country was seen to be plural; however, plurality was not conceived as an asset.

cultural, linguistic and ethnicity-based identities. Identity-assertions were not limited to Nepal: it was a global phenomenon. In fact, globalisation on the one hand and assertion of cultural, linguistic and ethnic identities, on the other, were to severely undermine nation-states in different fronts - economic, political, and cultural.

From the 1990s onwards, Nepal was seen as a plural country. Not only was plurality acknowledged - the mutual differences among the various ethnic groups, languages, and religions - were highlighted. And not only was it acknowledged, it was seen to be an asset. Indeed, the ethnic communities were now uplifted into the status of nations. According to political discourse on the rise in Nepal during the time, the country is not a nation but a multi-national state.

At a time when Nepal was seen to be a country of different peoples and nations, King Gyanendra, through his gestures, including the dress he wore and the language he spoke, embodied and epitomised only the Hindu-Parbatiya culture. That the Shah dynasty is Hindu by religion and Parbatiya by ethnicity is a fact of history; at a time of growing cultural, linguistic, and ethnic assertions, he could symbolically have embodied the various peoples that make up Nepal. Through state rituals and symbolisms, he could have been a King not just of the Hindus and the Parbatiyas, but of the Buddhists, the Muslims, the Christians and the indigenous religions. He could have aspired to be a King of Gurungs, Magars, Tamangs, Rais, Limbus, Newars, Dalits, Sherpas, Tharus, Yadavs, and all the various communities living in the Himalayas, the hills and the Tarai of Nepal. The politically-oriented King, however, by projecting himself to be an icon of orthodox Hinduism, increasingly became an anomaly in a milieu that acknowledged and celebrated pluralism. Not only could the active Monarch not strike chords with identity-based movements, but public gestures aimed at shoring his Hindu credentials alienated him further from the masses and the intelligencia. Unable to become a king of the Nepali people(s) estranged him further politically.

4. The India Equation King Gyanendra’s inability to forge an understanding with Indian Congress leadership along with the interests of the then coalition partners in India proved to


The Story of the Demise of Nepal’s Monarchy

be fatal for monarchy in Nepal. Among the various political forces in India, Kings of Nepal have been most comfortable with Bharatiya Janata Party, the Hindu nationalist party of India. Relations between Nepali kings and the Indian Congress leadership have been warm at times and chilly during others.

At the particular time when Gyanendra had taken over executive authority in Nepal and was marginalising the parliamentarian parties while targeting the Maoists, Indian government was made up of a coalition between the Indian Congress and Leftist parties. The BJP, the party sympathetic to monarchy in Nepal, was in the opposition. The Leftist parties in India were especially sympathetic towards the Maoists. The nature of the coalition in India meant that they were more willing to bring in the parliamentarian parties and the Maoists together than to work with (what they considered to be) an undemocratic monarch.

Though the Indian government had played a crucial role in forging the 12-point Memorandum of Understanding between the Maoists and the parliamentarian line has been that they would accept whatever decisions were made by the Nepali people including, as time revealed, the abolition of the monarchy itself.

During the heydays of colonialism, wherein racist discourses constituted the enlightened native rulers, such as those of Baroda, Mysore, Cochin and Travancore, contested the dominant narrative by undertaking progressive social reforms and showing that Indians could govern themselves: this generated empathy and pride among the Indian National Congress leadership. This also generated disdain in that most of the Princely States did not allow political participation of the citizenry and that civil liberties were less protected than in British India (Ramusack 216-221).

Gandhi, who led the Indian National Congress during the 1910’s and 1920’s, wanted these constituencies to conform to his political and social programs. He was generally sympathetic to the Princes and used intermediaries who were personally loyal to him and who were likely to be non-confrontational with durbar Indian National Congress and the Princely States in the early part of the twentieth Congress leadership could trust in person and who was also related to the King


Monarchy & Democracy in the 21st Century

of Nepal, was sent as an emissary to negotiate both with the King and heads of political parties in Nepal.

That the Indian Congress was, in principle, not opposed to the monarchy in the region is also attested by the fact that it had brought about the reinstatement of the Shah Kings as Monarchs of Nepal in 1951 by helping bring an end to the century-old Rana rule. It would not be incorrect to say that Indian Congress played a role in fashioning a particular variant of monarchy in Nepal, one that was close to the hearts of the Nepali people and one that underscored cooperation with the people’s representatives.

But this was to change with King Mahendra’s actions in 1960 that led to a cooling in the relationship between the Nepali Monarchs and Indian Congress. This trend continued until 1989 when King Birendra continued to remain as the active Monarch.

The decision by King Gyanendra to become a “constructive” constitutional Monarch, which either intentionally or unintentionally led him to become an active-assertive Monarch, constricted the choices for the Indian Congress to the whatever decisions on the fate of the monarchy made by the Nepali people.

Conclusion: Assessment of the Contribution of Monarchy in Nepal The contribution of monarchy in Nepal has been in building the state of Nepal, in modernising the Nepali state and society, in delineating a distinctive version of nationhood, and in fostering democracy. Each of these has been associated with different reigns or rules.

It may have been Prithvi Narayan Shah’s intention to expand the dominion of the House of Gorkha, but the expansion process that he initiated and that continued even after his demise, led to the formation of the present state of Nepal. The very existence of Nepal owes its existence to the dream, dexterity, and dedication of Prithvi Narayan. The hereditary Rana prime ministers who ruled from 1846 to 1950, as faithful allies of the British, ensured that Nepal became an independent, sovereign state but the country had to pay dearly in that it was isolated from the rest of the world. Nepal’s century-old political isolation ended with King Tribhuvan’s bold act in 1950-51. The reinstatement of Shah Kings as the centre of power


The Story of the Demise of Nepal’s Monarchy

in Nepal is enmeshed and interwoven with the tale of a King willing to risk his throne for the sake of the common people. Tribhuvan began expanding Nepal’s relationship with countries around the world, an initiative that was continued when his son, Mahendra, ascended to the throne in 1955. The persona of Mahendra generates two opposing narratives: one, of an ambitious Monarch who trampled democracy; the other, a moderniser. The story of Mahendra is a tale of how an otherwise traditionally-educated Prince undertook modernisation in order build a modern nation-state. The tale of King Birendra is that of a democratising Monarch. The jovial, happy-looking and pleasant Monarch facilitated the transition from assertive to constitutional monarchy, in the process helping consolidate parliamentary democracy in the country. The story of King Gyanendra is a tale of the process: his failure resulted in the abrogation of the institution itself. The tale of the last of the Monarchs, Gyanendra, is also the story of a King who gracefully exited the palace and led the life of an ordinary citizen.

King Gyanendra may have sullied the institution, but he was not a party to its abrogation: the decision to abolish the monarchy was a decision made by the Maoists, UML, NC, MJF and other political parties. It was the elected constituent assembly that on June 19, 2009, endorsed Nepal as a republic, something that the reinstated and expanded House of Representatives had, a year earlier, declared. Neither of these two bodies, however, stated why they were abolishing the centuries-old institution; they did not furnish any explanation as to what the monarchy had done wrong for which the representatives of the people were punishing it by terminating its existence. Nor did these bodies provide an opportunity for the King to speak. articulated by Gyanendra Shah (after he was no longer the Monarch) in his farewell speech before leaving the Narayanhiti Palace premises.

World history is replete with instances of monarchies having generally ended either through execution or exile. Nepal is unique in that the last of the Monarchs continues to live in the country as an ordinary citizen.

That the end of monarchy will herald a new ‘golden’ age in Nepal, as has been propagated by communist parties, simply has not borne fruit. One and a half years since the abolition of monarchy, the country continues to remain politically


Monarchy & Democracy in the 21st Century

unstable, the economy has not picked up, Maoists have not renounced violence, public safety and security continue to deteriorate, agitations by various identity- based movements harping on politics of differences continue unabated, armed- separatist groups proliferate, and a new constitution that was supposed to be formed by an elected constituent assembly has not been drafted, let alone been

Sudhindra Sharma is the Executive Director at Interdisciplinary Analysts, Kathmandu, Nepal.


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Research Institute, 1930. Print. Khanala, Yadunatha. Nepal Transition from Isolationism. Kathmandu: Sajha Prakashan, 1977. Print. Madan, T. N. Modern Myths, Locked Minds: Secularism and Fundamentalism in India.

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Once Upon a Time: the Rise and Fall of the Nepal Monarchy

Kunda Dixit

If one were to try to pinpoint the exact moment that Nepal’s monarchy began its downfall, it would probably be 8:45 on Friday night on June 1, 2001.

It was a hot and sultry evening, thunderstorms were brewing on the valley rim of Kathmandu. Filaments of pink lightning illuminated clouds towering over the mountains, and there was the deep, dull boom of distant thunder.

As the editor and publisher of the Nepali Times, I used to take Friday easy because that is the day the paper came out. That morning’s edition of the paper had a story on page one titled "Fight to the Finish". The political parties were continuing their endless bickering in Kathmandu, while the Maoist insurgents were gaining ground in the hinterland.

But few in Kathmandu were taking the Maoists seriously in those days, and no one would have predicted that in six short years Nepal would become a republic. The underground Maoists had been warning schools not to sing the national anthem that morning was eerily titled ‘God save the King’.

Inside, on page 13 was a translated report about Crown Prince Dipendra titled “A Suitable Prince” which delved into how he was now 31 and needed to get married. Royal matters were not discussed so openly those days, and an article like that was fairly rare in the Nepali media. It was the disagreement within the royal family about the Crown Prince’s choice of wife that the story reported that was a factor in the tragedy that was soon about to unfold. Here is an excerpt of that news item:


Monarchy & Democracy in the 21st Century

A Suitable Prince Preparations are underway to celebrate the 31st birthday of the heir to Nepal’s throne, Crown Prince Dipendra Bir Bikram Shah Dev. With this royal birthday around the corner, people’s attention is focused on the Crown Prince. People are asking why the Crown Prince is unmarried at this age, and whether his future member of the Nepali royalty to break tradition and not be married even at 31. The Royal Palace is also concerned about the Crown Prince’s marriage. But many do not know where the Crown Prince’s heart lies. People close to the Crown Prince speak of two women he has an emotional relationship with. One is a childhood sweetheart while his relationship with the other began when he was older. “It jokes a palace employee, adding, “but he does not support bigamy.” Crown Prince Dipendra is romantic by nature and he loves to joke and be open. His professors say he is uninhibited and has the poetic talents of his grandfather, the late King Mahendra, although his poems have not been published yet. Some people say the Crown Prince is against parliamentary democracy, but in reality he supports it wholeheartedly. He wants the Nepali people to have social discipline and responsibility. The Crown Prince is also very studious, his favourite subject being also painstakingly reads all the major newspapers and engages in discussions about how to boost the nation’s economy.

Crown Prince Dipendra turns 31 on 27 June. It is high time His Royal Highness got married. The Nepali people wish to celebrate his marriage soon and in the grandest manner. Everyone is worrying about when this will happen. (Nepali Times, 1 June 2001, #45)

king had a heart attack and was in hospital. This was plausible since King Birendra was a cardiac patient. Then came rumours that the royal palace had been attacked. “This is it,” I remember thinking, “the Maoists have attacked the palace.” My reporters’ instincts took over and I called people who lived in the neighbourhood of the palace. They had heard gunshots.

An eye-witness said he had seen cars and army jeeps careening through the narrow streets towards the military hospital on the outskirts of the city. Cell phones were


Once Upon a Time: the Rise and Fall of the Nepal Monarchy

introduced in Nepal just two years earlier and they started going off all over town. Hospital personnel started calling friends and relatives who, in turn, called others.

Like Chinese whispers a lot of the information got distorted as it spread. But the broad outlines of the ghastly events began to take shape as the night wore on. What emerged was so shocking and unbelievable that many rejected it as gossip and went to sleep.

But the phones didn’t stop ringing. ‘King Birendra dead, Queen Aiswarya dead, Princess Shruti wounded, Prince Nirajan dead, Crown Prince Dipendra in coma’ the SMSs read. At 11 pm, three hours after the shooting, we had to decide whether to put the news up on our website. But we hesitated, we hadn’t cross-checked with any other source. What if all the sources we heard from had all got it from the same rumour?

The pre-monsoon clouds were closing in, and there was the sound of a helicopter later it returned, obviously the weather was too bad for it to continue. This was the the King’s brother.

we knew so far: that at least six members of the royal family were dead, there were rumours the Crown Prince had shot everyone and then shot himself. It was decided to put it up.

The nation woke up the next morning, stunned by the news. People gathered at street corners reading the only two newspapers that had the news of the massacre. Editors were so shocked by the news that their confusion could be seen in the coverage, some papers played it safe and just ignored the story. The government immediately clamped down on news in the state media, radio and TV were allowed to broadcast only mourning music.

At the hospital eight members of the royal family were dead, King Birendra’s brother Dhirendra was struggling for life and Dipendra was in a coma. The


Monarchy & Democracy in the 21st Century

Even though he was in a coma, and even though royal family members knew he had killed his family, rules of royal succession meant that Dipendra had to be declared king by the Privy Council. No country can make rules for something as unimaginable as this, and there was no precedence on which to base decisions.

Not the First Time Nepal until then had been known as a Himalayan kingdom of stupendous natural beauty, gentle people, and as the birthplace of the Buddha. What wasn’t so well known in the outside world was the violent history of its royal families.

expansionist Himalayan power that stretched from the Teesta in the east to the Sutlej in the west and half-way down to the Ganges to the south.

The belligerent Kingdom of Gorkha came into head-on collision with the East India Company. The supply lines were overstretched, and the citizenry was pauperised by taxation to fund the war effort. Palace intrigues and massacres of the nobility ensured that the territorial gains could not be sustained. The treaty signed at the end of the Anglo-Nepal Wars of 1814-16 allowed Nepal to retain her independence but the Gorkha empire was cut down to its present size. The British made sure that Kathmandu retained only a small strip of the plains to the south because it was the agricultural surplus there that was the main source of revenue for its military expansion.

In 1854 a little known general massacred more than 40 members of the nobility in the palace and took over power, marking the beginning of 104 years of a dynasty of Nepal’s hereditary and Anglophile Rana prime ministers. The British residency in Kathmandu (part of the 1816 treaty) found it easy to divide and rule because members of the two royal families were at each other’s throats. The Shah kings independent India.

India’s independence in 1947 brought a democratic wave, but it wasn’t until dissolved parliament and imprisoned Prime Minister B.P. Koirala, saying “Nepal


Once Upon a Time: the Rise and Fall of the Nepal Monarchy

isn’t big enough for the both of us.” He banned political parties and ruled with an iron hand, instituting the Panchayat System, a sort of homegrown authoritarianism.

Mahendra married his three sons (Birendra, Gyanendra and Dhirendra) to three sisters from the Rana clan. After his death in 1972, Birendra ascended to the throne. He had been educated in Europe and was a soft-spoken liberal and started well, trying to institute reforms in education and the civil service.

Under the absolute monarchy the press was severely curtailed. Criticism of the government was punishable and there was zero tolerance of any negative coverage of the King and royal family. Editors and reporters found out the hard way what the limits were, and most journalists practiced self-censorship. Even innocent mistakes, like a typo that turned “the auspicious birthday of His Majesty” to “the suspicious birthday of His Majesty” brought down the wrath of the state. The of the state, and television, when it arrived in 1985, soon became a station to broadcast the home movies of the royal family.

The royal palace was the real source of control and power was exercised by the King’s feared advisers who had more say than the government of the day. The rules were laid out and everyone knew where the boundaries were. After Mahendra, there was an expectation that things might change. However liberal Birendra may have been he was too weak to change the system and the press secretary at the palace was the defacto minister of information.

cat-and-mouse game with the government. Usually the leftist papers were tolerated more because they were critical of the democratic Nepali Congress.

In the 30 years of Panchayat the Nepali polity became like a pressure cooker. There were no political parties and no free media to vent off steam. It all burst in April 1989 when a people power uprising swept Kathmandu. Birendra vacillated constitutional Monarch.


Monarchy & Democracy in the 21st Century

Hardliners in the royal palace never reconciled themselves to the loss of power plotting to stage a comeback. Birendra’s brother Gyanendra was not a great fan of democracy and was putting his brother under pressure to roll back on freedoms.

When the country turned from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional monarchy after the 1990 Constitution, the media erupted with its new-found freedom. It was as if the lid had been blown off and, as is usual during times of transition like these, the media didn’t know where the boundaries were. Criticism of the government was suddenly allowed, and the papers competed with each other to give sensational headlines and party papers ran each other down with defamatory content. True, there was so much corruption, mismanagement and partisanship

in the governance process in Nepal’s new democracy that they deserved to be written about. But the free-for-all media’s coverage ended up making the people so disillusioned that they started blaming the system, and not the politicians who had given democracy a bad name. “We are not mature enough for democracy,” became

a favourite refrain.

In all this the monarchy was still a taboo subject. King Birendra, despite the dent on his reputation during the 1989 uprising, was still treated with respect, and Queen Aishwarya, who was the target of some of the most vitriolic street slogans during the protests, was left largely alone. There was some occasional dark hints about royal involvement in business deals, but no one really took the risk of spelling

it out. Part of the reason was that the lèse majesté laws were left intact in the 1990 Constitution, and the King and army were still powerful behind-the-scenes players.

With the media now distracted by negative coverage of politicians the monarchy was left alone. This and the fact that King Birendra was comfortable in his role as a constitutional monarch and played it by the book meant that the monarchy started to regain its reputation. King Birendra, especially, gained new respect and even affection from Nepalis. Unlike during the Panchayat years there would be genuine and spontaneous show of support for him when he toured the country. Sometimes he’d just walk out of the palace with his Queen along the sidewalk to go to the nearby home of his daughter, Shruti’s. Many were reminded of Nordic royalty who had no airs.

Things started to change with the antics of young royal family members. When Prince Paras, the son of Gyanendra, allegedly ran over singer Prakash Gurung in


Once Upon a Time: the Rise and Fall of the Nepal Monarchy

2000, the media reported openly on the incident and the attempts of cover-up. News of other drunken brawls in Kathmandu’s bars in which royals were involved also started appearing in the papers, but the coverage was still circumspect and no names were named.

Disillusioned with what they felt was the slow pace of change and impatient to gain total power, Maoist rebels launched an armed struggle in 1996 to overthrow the monarchy. The insurgency spread rapidly across Nepal, feeding on the inequality, discrimination and social injustice in the country. Taking advantage of the political There was increasing disenchantment against the political parties because of their corruption and mismanagement.

King Birendra took his constitutional role seriously and refused to intervene. by the people. Compared with his parents Crown Prince Dipendra was an had studied in a government school in Kathmandu and had many friends among ordinary Nepalis. He was close to his cousin, Paras, Gyanendra’s son, who was

Nepalis were used to hearing about the excesses of their pampered royals, they gossiped about their greed, wealth, and business interests. There was concern in the public about Dipendra and there were strong rumours that his parents were against his plans to marry Devyani Rana, the half-Indian daughter of a Nepali politician.

Queen Aiswarya was said to be vehemently against the match because she had a personal dislike for Devyani’s Indian mother who was glamorous, suave, and spoke good English. Birendra did not assert himself too much, but even he was said to be concerned that the next Queen of Nepal should not be of half-Indian descent—even hinting that his royal succession may be affected if he decided to go ahead with the marriage. Dipendra was adamant. Although he had many girlfriends, it seems he was smitten by Devyani. The girl, for her part, was probably getting impatient with the waiting and was putting pressure on Dipendra to decide.

Much of this was not common knowledge and came to light only after the massacre. In hindsight we now know that there was strong tension within the royal family


Monarchy & Democracy in the 21st Century

over the question of Dipendra’s marriage. And although the Crown Prince had a good public image, what we didn’t know was that he had problems with substance abuse and had a gun fetish—a lethal combination as it turned out.

Journalists speculated about his marriage plans but stopped short of reporting what they knew: that Dipendra’s choice of bride was unacceptable to many members of the family especially his mother. But one Kathmandu news magazine reported on Dipendra’s interest and involvement in the Royal Nepal Army’s procurement of the American Colt M-16.

So it was that on June 1, 2001, that Dipendra donned combat fatigues and black gloves, slung a 9mm MP-5K, an M-16, and a French shotgun around his shoulders and came downstairs. He advanced on his father, and Birendra seemed to think his son wanted to show him his guns and started to walk towards him. But Dipendra shot off a short burst into the ceiling and then at the direction of his father. The King was hit, and eyewitnesses say he had a look of utter disbelief in his eyes as he slowly slumped over to his side. As family members rushed to catch him as he four others were injured. Most of the wounded were declared dead on arrival at the hospital. Princess Sruti died one hour later, Dhirendra and Dipendra two days later on 3 June.

The government was in disarray, no one knew who was giving the orders: the Queen Aiswarya were dead, it didn’t say how they died. It proclaimed Dipendra CNN that the royal family was killed by the “accidental discharge of an automatic weapon”. An information blackout and statements like these meant rumours ran rife and conspiracy theories were everywhere. After Dipendra’s funeral, Gyanendra was named King and he addressed the nation on television promising the people a “thorough investigation”. Nepal had three kings in four days. Gyanendra’s enthronement happened as protests raged throughout the capital.


Once Upon a Time: the Rise and Fall of the Nepal Monarchy

saying Dipendra was responsible. But the people, lied to and denied information, didn’t believe the government when it told the truth. Most people were convinced the unpopular Gyanendra was somehow responsible.

The media’s role became one of a detective in a murder mystery. Gathering evidence, piecing together the exact sequence of events, trying to crosscheck with secretiveness of the royal family and the shock of the event. What the journalists uncovered and the conclusions of the inquiry commission tallied on almost all major points and the reason was that many of the eye-witnesses interviewed were conclusions also became suspect.

It got to a point where journalists who stuck to what they knew were immediately labelled “royalists” or “biased”. The best test that the media was on the right track was the fact that by sticking to journalistic professionalism the conclusion we a lot more interviews and facts. Like the Kennedy assassination and the Princess Diana accident, the conspiracy theories will never go away.

Some of these questions about the prelude and the events of that terrible night will perhaps never be known because most of the protagonists are dead. But what is true is that the massacre left an indelible mark on Nepali politics, eroding the traditional respect for the monarchy. The murders were so shocking that Nepalis never really came to terms with it, and the republican wave we see today is a delayed reaction to that event.

King Gyanendra, soon after his enthronement, told his people he was not like his He staged a coup and took over the government on 1 February 2005, imprisoned politicians and civil society activists and muzzled the media. Nepal was an absolute monarchy again.

The King sent soldiers into the newsrooms. There were three of them in our out our editorial cartoon, hacked off a paragraph from our editorial, even took out


Monarchy & Democracy in the 21st Century

a letter to the editor and an op-ed column. This made censorship in the Panchayat to the Nepali Times because he spoke English. He seemed almost apologetic about what he had to do and it was clear his heart was not in it.

Our papers and magazines came out with large white holes where material had been censored. And when the army said we couldn’t do that we replaced them with gibberish and absurd editorials. We wrote allegorical opinion pieces about democracy. FM stations were singled out for the strictest controls and our colleagues in the district radio stations were bravest in standing up to the censors. They were told not to broadcast news, only music. So they started singing the news, or they’d take the news studio to the street and read the latest news to passers-by.

him by defying his crackdown on the free press. It took only 14 months for a people’s uprising to force him to restore parliament and bring back democracy.

That was made possible by an alliance between the Maoists and the seven parliamentary parties in a pro-democracy movement brokered by India. By February 2006, Nepal’s second people power uprising in 16 years forced King Gyanendra to backtrack. What the Maoists could not achieve with a 10 year war and 15,000 dead was done in 19 days of non-violent street protests. This was a model for violent revolutions all over the world: that there is an alternative to

For two years after that Nepal was in a limbo between monarchy and republic, the King was still in his palace but the word “royal” had been expunged from the national airline, the national army and Nepal’s embassies abroad. Nepal was a lingering “royal republic”. In those two years Nepal went from a Hindu kingdom to secular republic, armed guerrillas faced elections, won and formed a government tourism and other critical ministries in a coalition with other parties.

The monarchy which with the royal army was responsible for the formation of what is now Nepal were de-linked without bloodshed. The King wasn’t beheaded, his palace wasn’t sacked. In fact King Gyanendra was allowed to perform all his


Once Upon a Time: the Rise and Fall of the Nepal Monarchy

ceremonial duties for a full year after he had been sidelined, but when parliament declared Nepal a republic, called a press conference and willingly vacated the palace to become an ordinary citizen.

Lessons Learnt The beginning of the end of Nepal’s monarchy was the royal massacre of June 1, from King Gyanendra himself, a deeply unpopular king who had a visceral distrust of politicians and the democratic process, and he tried to turn the clock back to re-enact his father’s 1960 coup.

arms to abolish the monarchy and, after they entered the peace process in 2006, needed a revolutionary face to justify ten years of a wasteful war to their own cadre as well as to the public.

Most Nepali people would have been neutral if asked to choose between a monarchy and a republic. They disliked the King but that didn’t mean there was an overwhelming desire to abolish the monarchy. Nepalis knew the country would not disintegrate without the monarchy, and there was residual respect for the tradition of monarchy.

The People Power Uprising was predicated not on republicanism, but on the removal of an absolute monarchy and a dictatorial King. There were very few slogans for a republic when people marched on the streets in April 2006. The Maoists, however, needed a revolutionary slogan, a trophy, something to justify the repeatedly threatened to go back to war if the monarchy was not abolished. In essence they needed to prop up an enemy to bring down to prove that it was a victorious revolution, even if it was a defanged King.

Even after the monarchy was abolished and the King dethroned in July 2008, the Maoists kept citizen Gyanendra in their sights. They have needed to target him even if he is no longer King just to take the attention away from their own non- performance in government and to unite their fractious party against a common class enemy.


Monarchy & Democracy in the 21st Century

This is not to say that Gyanendra is not capable of mischief and there are many in Kathmandu who think he is plotting a comeback. They say he is a vindictive man and would probably like nothing better than to exact revenge on those who overthrew him. However, even if the monarchy is somehow restored, Gyanendra probably knows that public opinion will not accept him, or his son, as King.

The moderate political parties realised that the monarchy probably needed to be initially against abolishing the monarchy, party leaders relented because they themselves had been targeted by the King after his 2002 “creeping coup” and the coup de grace in 2005.

The joke in Kathmandu in 2005 was that the most pro-republican person in Nepal was the king himself. He had no one to blame but himself, not just for his downfall, but for the end of his dynasty. He lied to the international community, he misled the parties multiple times even though they were essentially monarchists at heart, and he listened to no one. In the end history will see an arrogant King who was unable to understand the role of a modern Monarch in a developing country that role, he hated the political leadership and the democratic process, and this brought down the King and the kingship.

When an inquiry commission was formed to look into the excesses in the crackdown on the 2006 pro-democracy movement King Gyanendra could have saved the monarchy by making a public apology. But he didn’t. He had another chance at his departure press conference before vacating the palace for good in 2008 but he could never get himself to say sorry.

King Gyanendra must have known that he had a public relations problem and that most Nepalis still blamed him for the murder of his popular brother. Yet he did nothing to remedy this. It was only in his last press conference where he devoted half the time denying his involvement in the massacre. But by then it was too late.

The restoration of the monarchy may not be possible now because Gyanendra and his son, Paras, are so deeply unpopular. The only convincing argument for restoration is if the country disintegrated into anarchy but both father and son would be more of a divisive factor than a unifying one at a time when the nation will need an institution to bind it together again.


Once Upon a Time: the Rise and Fall of the Nepal Monarchy

It’s too late also for the “baby King” proposal to make either Paras’ young son King or make the only surviving person in Birendra’s bloodline (his grand-daughter) the Queen. They will have a passive role in a ceremonial monarchy whereas, if Nepal is really in a crisis, it may need a more active Monarch enforcing constitutional provisions in the national interest.

Today, across Nepal, the most surprising thing is how quickly Nepalis have forgotten that their country was ever a monarchy. It is as if they want to forget about this tragic part of our history and want to move on.

Kunda M. Dixit is the publisher of Nepali Times, Kathmandu, Nepal.



Media, Monarchy and the

Hugh O’Donnell

Introduction “News,” British newspaper magnate Lord Northcliff is often (though almost certainly spuriously) quoted as saying, “is what someone somewhere wants to suppress. All the rest,” he added, “is advertising.” And indeed, this concept of the uncovering of awkward and embarrassing truths – for those in positions of power, that is – is a now long established element of the professional ideology of journalism, and lies behind such notions as its existence as a Fourth Estate, or as a public “watchdog”. Appealing though such an ideology may be, and excellent though it undoubtedly is as the stuff of literary and cinematic drama, it has been known for a long time 1 that the professional practice of journalism is often far from this ideal. It is now widely recognised that “news” tends increasingly to come pre-packaged to the journalist rather than being actively sought out by him/ her, coming “down the wire” in earlier days and now primarily distributed via the internet. Western societies have largely learned to “live” with this kind of news, though continuing anxieties regarding whose interests it ultimately serves surface repeatedly in debates over “spin”, “spin doctors”, “spin-meisters”, and so on.

What is generally not viewed as acceptable, however (except perhaps in cases where it is argued that “national security” is somehow at stake), is when journalists deliberately cover-up information that could be viewed as being in the public interest. In certain contexts, however, the curious phenomenon arises of the “disremembering” of facts that are already in the public domain, which enjoy an existence as elements of popular memory; but that are viewed by those in power Splits of this kind, where popular discourse on the one hand and political culture



(with the collusion of journalists) on the other maintain quite different versions of national history, occur most frequently when there is a transition of one kind of political regime to another. Whether from dictatorship to democracy or the other way round, the rationale most frequently advanced is the needs of national reconstruction. The second case deserves particular attention since dictatorships can and do demand the collaboration of the media – enforcing it by violent means if necessary. Alternatively, “freedom of the press” is widely viewed as

a cornerstone of democratic process, and under these circumstances the willing

collusion of journalists in strategies of forgetting cannot be straightforwardly ascribed to intimidation and oppression.

This paper looks at a particularly interesting case of “disremembering” – that surrounding the person of the current Spanish monarch, King Juan Carlos. A few words on the phenomenon of (European) monarchy in general, and on the Spanish monarchy in particular, focusing in both cases on their relationship with democracy, will help to set the scene.

Monarchy and Democracy

Monarchy – in the European case, at least, but no doubt more widely also – is a product of feudalism. Without necessarily wishing to subscribe either to the grand Enlightenment teleology of nineteenth-century French thinker (and “father of sociology”) August Comte, or those of his German near-contemporary Karl Marx,

it would not seem unreasonable to expect that monarchies would be now little

more than a historical memory in Europe. After all, capitalism and its concomitant bourgeois rationality are now almost totally dominant in the economies of Europe

and the First World more generally. Even the remnants of the great feudal estates have been absorbed into that economic system – and bourgeois parliamentary democracy is itself one of the expressions of that bourgeois rationality. Yet this is clearly not the case. Not only have some of the old European monarchies survived, but others which were overthrown were subsequently reinstated (even if they have not all survived to the present day) and in addition two new ones have also emerged, in both cases – the Belgian and the Norwegian monarchies – in relation to the establishment of new nation-states.

Europe’s youngest monarchy – the Norwegian royal house – was in fact instated just over a century ago, in 1905, following the country’s split with Sweden in the same year. The decision to adopt a constitutional monarchy rather than a


Monarchy & Democracy in the 21st Century

republic as the political form of the state was the result of a referendum rather uniformly rude health) of a number of European monarchies (seven in all) shows us a number of things. Firstly, that parliamentary democracies have not universally viewed monarchy as a foreign secretion that must be extruded at all cost, but have on occasions willingly entered into a symbiotic relationship with it. Secondly, even a valuable institution for the process of nation building. And thirdly – and the importance of this point can hardly be overstressed – continuing popular support for monarchies in Scandinavia and elsewhere, even if highly variable in both nature and intensity over time, shows that despite (or perhaps to some extent because of) the increasing commoditisation and bureaucratisation of daily life – what the German philosopher Jürgen Habermas calls "the colonisation of the Life World by the System World" – there remains more to popular culture and the experience of everyday life than political and economic rationality. Whatever our own personal opinions on monarchy might be (and I myself remain philosophically republican), we cannot hope to understand the societies we live in if we cannot, however imperfectly, attempt to grasp the enduring (complex, yes; variable, no their lack of formal power and the intense media narratives focused on them as families they have somehow come, despite the pageantry and paraphernalia of state, to symbolise the continuing presence of the Life World in the very heart of that System World.

The Spanish Case In the twentieth century, Spain was without a monarchy – or at least a reigning monarch – for forty-four years. This was the period between the abdication of Alfonso XIII in 1931 and the ascension to the throne of Juan Carlos I in 1975 following the death of the dictator General Francisco Franco. After his victory in the Spanish Civil War (1936-9), Franco did not formally reinstate the monarchy:

he neither recalled Alfonso XIII (who died in 1941), nor his son Juan, Count of Barcelona (who died in 1993). Despite this, he carefully groomed Alfonso’s as such in 1969 (despite the fact that the legitimate heir to the throne, Juan, was instatement as monarch – a ceremony of anointing rather than a coronation – Juan Carlos swore allegiance to the principles of the National Movement, the


political arm of Franco’s single-party state. He also named Franco’s last Prime

would eventually dismiss Arias Navarro from his post in July 1976 as a result of the latter’s ultra-conservative views, many at the time viewed both these moves as

a highly inauspicious start.

Franco’s death in 1975 was followed by Spain’s slow, and in some senses rather fearful, transition to parliamentary democracy. Political parties were legalised, and the last to be recognised, after considerable debate and much opposition from both the Church and the military, was the Communist Party on Easter Sunday 1977. Independent trade unions were also legalised, and Franco’s old corporatist were held in July 1977 in an atmosphere of intense excitement and a 79% voter turn-out. A referendum on the new Constitution followed a year later in December 1978, this time with a voter turn out of 67% and just over 88% of those voting in favour. Juan Carlos introduced a parliamentary democracy with a constitutional monarchy and renounced all rights to executive, legislative and judicial power with

a constitution that introduced wide-reaching reforms. In particular, it recognised languages of the Spanish state.

This programme for reform was largely led by a group of politicians who had risen to the top of Franco’s political apparatus towards the end of his regime, but there can be no doubt that it would not have been possible without the agreement of Juan Carlos as the Head of State. Nonetheless, he remained a somewhat shadowy, and anxieties, particularly though not only on the Left, regarding the fact that he was the radically on the evening of 23 (and early morning of 24) February 1981, a date now so deeply consecrated in Spanish collective memory that it is simply referred to by the shorthand notation "23-F". While a new Prime Minister was being sworn ceiling and taking all the Members of Parliament hostage – scenes captured live on television and later relayed around the world. The captors called for a military insurrection against the democratic process, a call answered in Valencia where the army came out onto the streets in tanks. The situation was extraordinarily tense.


Monarchy & Democracy in the 21st Century

In the early hours of the morning of 24 February, Juan Carlos, having telephoned the military commanders of all the Spanish regions to stress his opposition to this attempted coup d’état, appeared on national television dressed in full military all necessary measures to be taken to maintain constitutional order. His brief address – just over a minute in length – contained the following statement:

The Crown, symbol of the permanence and unity of the fatherland, cannot tolerate in any way actions or attitudes of persons aiming to interrupt by force the democratic process which the Constitution voted for by the Spanish people duly laid down via a referendum.

Subsequent events were to show that the attempted coup had in all probability relatively little chance of success, with none of the military units other than Valencia responding to the call, though this was not at all apparent at the time. Even so, Juan Carlos’s actions were and are clearly deserving of praise. He completely the hero of the hour.

That, however, is a very different matter from what was to happen next. In the Spanish media Juan Carlos was instantly dubbed “the saviour of democracy”, a description that was quickly expanded to “the guarantor of democracy”, “the pilot of change”, “the driving-force of change” and other similar appellations. For comments, however mild, of Juan Carlos in the mainstream Spanish media (the Catalan-language newspaper Avui has always been a somewhat different case). I am not in any sense suggesting a conspiracy of silence. There is no evidence (at least none that I am aware of) that any kind of conscious decision was taken by media outlets, either jointly or severally, to sanctify the king in any way. Nonetheless, for an extended period the king’s Francoist origins passed into the realm of the unsayable, despite the fact that they were known to all.

This description of Juan Carlos as the “saviour of democracy” remains with us ever-present, but reaches peaks of great intensity at what are seen for one reason or another as key moments in time: anniversaries of Franco’s death, anniversaries of


the Constitution, anniversaries of "23-F" itself and so on. We can be quite certain

of such vocabulary. But these moments do not have to be overtly political in nature.

A particularly spectacular high-point was provided by the Barcelona Olympics in

1992, when viewers not only in Spain, but also throughout the world saw the King hug and embrace winning Spanish athletes, who would then be kissed by the princesses. This was a