Tag Archives: monarchy

Naruhito could soon become Japan’s next emperor

Naruhito, Japan's crown prince, would assume the Chrysanthemum Throne if his father Akihito were permitted to abdicate. (Sebastien Bozon / AFP - Getty)
Naruhito, Japan’s crown prince, would assume the Chrysanthemum Throne if his father Akihito were permitted to abdicate. (Sebastien Bozon / AFP – Getty)

Japan’s long-serving emperor, Akihito, stunned his country Monday in a video address, during he heavily hinted that the Japanese parliament should consider permitting his future abdication.Japan

The emperor did not fully endorse legislation to allow abdication, out of respect for the tradition that emperors do not intervene directly in Japanese politics. But at age 82, Akihito, who has suffered from increasingly poor health in recent years, made it abundantly clear that he believes that his retirement would be a good thing for the Japanese people — if the current government finds a way to amend the imperial succession laws. In addressing the Japanese people directly, and in reinforcing the emperor’s role as a symbol of postwar pacifism, Akihito also contrasted with the post-imperial views of prime minister Shinzō Abe, perhaps the most nationalist of Japan’s postwar civilian leaders.

No matter what happens, Akihito’s address signals that his son, the 56-year-old Naruhito, could take a much more high-profile role in the future. If the Diet enacts legislation permitting abdication, Naruhito might even soon become Japan’s new emperor.

The abdication question is now just one of several issues on Abe’s desk after his dominant Liberal Democratic Party of Japan (LDP, or 自由民主党, Jiyū-Minshutō) made gains in elections last month in the House of Councillors, the upper house of the National Diet (国会, Kokkai), the Japanese parliament. Among other things, Abe has postponed a long-planned increase in the national consumption tax and has doubled down on what’s already been nearly four years of fiscal and monetary stimulus to improve Japan’s long-stagnant economy. Above all, he still harbors dreams of revising Japan’s pacifist constitution by amending Article 9, the famous provision that outlaws war and technically forbids a standing Japanese army (though, in reality, the so-called Japan Self-Defense Forces have more personnel than the United Kingdom’s army).

Akihito’s Monday afternoon address, however, brings the Japanese imperial tradition to the forefront of Japan’s often muted (by American standards, at least) political agenda. The Chrysanthemum Throne dates back nearly three millennia as the world’s oldest continuing hereditary monarchy. Japan’s emperors, however, traditionally wielded more moral and spiritual power than actual power. That was true in the Tokugawa era, and it’s been true since the end of World War II when the United States and its allies rehabilitated the imperial institution to use Hirohito, who reigned from 1926 to 1989, as a link from pre-war to post-war Japan.

Hirohito, in the immediate postwar period, admitted publicly that the emperor was not, in fact, a god. Akihito’s wife, Michiko, is the first commoner to serve as empress, and they have tried to make the throne more accessible to the Japanese people. Naruhito, in particular, has indicated that he would like to continue to break down some of the formality surrounding the imperial family. Continue reading Naruhito could soon become Japan’s next emperor

Will we think of the postwar era as the ‘New Elizabethan’ era?

when she goesPhoto credit to Chris Levine.

Today, Elizabeth II became the longest reigning monarch in British (or English) history.United Kingdom Flag Icon

At the beginning of her 63-year reign, which today officially exceeded that of another queen, Victoria, Winston Churchill was prime minister of the United Kingdom, former prime minister Clement Atlee was still leader of the Labour Party and Harry Truman was just entering the final year of his presidency in the United States.

India was enjoying the fifth anniversary of its formal independence from Great Britain and some countries, like Belize, Uganda, Nigeria and Kenya, were still British colonies. The Soviet Union’s Joseph Stalin was still alive (though would die in just over a year), and the Cold War would sludge on for another 38 years. Mao Zedong would have nearly a quarter-century ahead of him as the ruler of Communist China. Charles de Gaulle was still six years away from founding France’s Fifth Republic, and the European Economic Community, the forerunner of today’s European Union, would not be formed until the 1957 Treaty of Rome — and it would be another 20 years before the United Kingdom would be permitted to join the EEC, over two of de Gaulle’s vetoes.

As of today, at least, the halfway point of Elizabeth’s reign is in 1984, when British prime minister Margaret Thatcher was still in her second term and US president Ronald Reagan had yet to win reelection. US basketball player Michael Jordan had just been drafted by the Chicago Bulls, and the world had never heard of Mariah Carey, Jay-Z, 2Pac, Britney Spears or Green Day.

Consider this: Diana, who married Elizabeth’s first son, Charles, the Prince of Wales, was a princess for only around one-fourth of Elizabeth’s reign — from her marriage to Charles in 1981 to her untimely Paris death in 1997. (But note that the British monarchy’s lowest point, in the second Elizabethan era, came in the early hours following Diana’s death — and that the media-savvy perspective of former prime minister Tony Blair, along with the saccharine ‘cool Britannia’ sugar high of New Labour’s first term, did much to restore the monarchy’s luster).

The very presence of Elizabeth Alexandra Mary of the House of Windsor is so staggering because, for more than 63 years, she has been such a reassuringly stolid face of the British monarchy that she is now the living embodiment of both what it means to be British and what it means to be a monarch. That’s not hyperbole. Of the 39 countries in the world that use monarchies (constitutional or otherwise), Elizabeth is the head of state for 16* of them!

All of which is a long way of saying that here in the year 2015, one way to think about the postwar era is simply to think of the age of Elizabeth — the new Elizabethan era.
Continue reading Will we think of the postwar era as the ‘New Elizabethan’ era?

Can Felipe VI do for federalism what Juan Carlos did for democracy?


Spain’s king, Juan Carlos I — who is to have once proclaimed that ‘kings don’t abdicate, they die in their sleep’ — surprised his country with the announcement earlier today that he would, in fact, abdicate the kingdom that he has held since 1975.Spain_Flag_Icon

Juan Carlos’s legacy today is undisputedly the role he played in the transition to Spanish democracy following the death of Spain’s longtime 20th century strongman Francisco Franco. As his country prepares for the inauguration coronation of his son, Felipe VI (pictured above), it’s not too early to consider whether Felipe can achieve the constitutional reforms that could mollify and temper Spain’s regionalism through some form of federalism.

It wasn’t necessarily destined that Juan Carlos de Borbón would ascend to the throne, in light of the proclamation of the second Spanish republic in 1931, Spanish king Alfonso XIII’s subsequent flight and, in 1941, his abdication after the conservative Franco came to power in 1939.

Though Franco allowed for Alfonso XIII’s grandson, Juan Carlos, to return to Spain for his education, his relationship to the monarchy remained throughout the Franco era.  A conservative who supported the monarchy prior to 1931, Franco proclaimed Spain a monarchy in 1947, but that didn’t mean he was keen to hand any amount of power to the royal family. Instead, Franco left the monarchy officially vacant, ruling instead as ‘regent’ for the next 28 years. It was only in 1969 that Franco named Juan Carlos as crown prince, firmly clearing the path for Juan Carlos to succeed Franco as Spain’s head of state in 1975.


Having sworn an oath to Franco’s Movimiento Nacional (National Movement), it also wasn’t a certainty that Juan Carlos would move so swiftly transition his country toward democracy following Franco’s death. After all, Juan Carlos (pictured above with Franco) owed his position entirely to a mix of pro-Franco military forces and political elites — nationalist, fascist, conservative and monarchist.

Even after Juan Carlos announced Adolfo Suárez as his prime minister with a mandate of democratic transition, and even after Suárez himself formed Spain’s first elected government in the post-Franco era,  Spain’s republicans — a mix of separatists, liberals, democrats and communists — still weren’t sure whether to trust Juan Carlos.

That changed for two reasons. Continue reading Can Felipe VI do for federalism what Juan Carlos did for democracy?

14 potential game-changers for world politics in 2014


Though I rang in the new year with a list of 14 world elections to watch in the coming year (and 14 more honorable mentions to keep an eye on), I wanted to showcase a few more thoughts about what to watch for in world politics and foreign affairs in 2014.

Accordingly, here are 14 possible game-changers — they’re not predictions per se, but neither are they as far-fetched as they might seem.  No one can say with certainty that they will come to pass in 2014.  Instead, consider these something between rote predictions (e.g., that violence in Iraq is getting worse) and outrageous fat-tail risks (e.g., the impending breakup of the United States).

There’s an old album of small pieces conducted by the late English conductor Sir Thomas Beecham, a delightfully playful album entitled Lollipops that contains some of the old master’s favorite, most lively short pieces.

Think of these as Suffragio‘s 14 world politics lollipops to watch in 2014.

We start in France… Continue reading 14 potential game-changers for world politics in 2014

Are constitutional monarchies better than presidential republics? Correlation ≠ causation!


Like most folks who have no really strong feelings about the British monarchy (I’m neither incredibly pro-monarchy or anti-monarchy as far as constitutional monarchies go these days), I spent much of the past two days avoiding the coverage surrounding the birth of the royal prince born Monday to Prince William and Kate Middleton. United Kingdom Flag Icon

But Dylan Matthews, over at The Washington Post‘s Wonkblog, used the opportunity of the young (as yet unnamed) prince’s birth to make the case that constitutional monarchies are preferable to republics with elected heads of states, and that is a question in which that Suffragio readers ought to be incredibly interested.  It’s a piece I read with keen excitement, it makes some very smart points, and it makes this rather sweeping conclusion:

Constitutional monarchy is the best form of government that humanity has yet tried. It has yielded rich, healthy nations whose regime transitions are almost always due to elections and whose heads of state are capable of being truly apolitical. The U.S. would do well to adopt it.

The punchline is that a constitutional monarchy is preferable to a republic with an elected, ceremonial head of state.  That’s because a monarch’s position is not rooted in any legitimate political process, unlike a president who is elected either directly by ballot or indirectly by a national parliament — when political crises arise, a monarch is less likely to intervene in political affairs, thereby resulting in new elections; in contrast, an elected president is more likely to engineer a new government without new elections:

The key to monarchs’ success is that they’re totally illegitimate. The people wouldn’t stand for Queen Elizabeth exercising real political power just because of who her father was. That’s a powerful deterrent that prevents monarchs from meddling in political affairs. The result is that in all but very rare cases, prime ministers in monarchies are never thrown out of office except when they call elections or when they receive a vote of no confidence in parliament. The head of state can’t touch them.

It’s an interesting thesis, but I’m not sure that it holds up nearly as well as Matthews thinks it does.

He begins with what I believe is the weakest argument of all — that constitutional monarchies are healthier and richer than other republics, and he presents a graph that purports to show that, on average, constitutional monarchies are richer and healthier (see below the chart from Wonkblog):


But of course, ‘correlation does not equal causation.’


There are a lot of historical and economic reasons that explain why constitutional monarchies, which are predominantly located in Europe, are so much richer and healthier.  North America and Europe are, well, richer than Africa or the Middle East or South America, in general terms, but it seems like ‘having a constitutional monarchy’ is not incredibly high on the list of reasons why Europe’s standard of living is so much higher than Africa’s.  The legacy of colonialism, for one.

After making this correlation, Matthews then backs off the claim somewhat:

Of course, this doesn’t demonstrate that having a constitutional monarchy makes countries richer, only that it’s totally possible to both be a healthy, rich country and be a constitutional monarchy. The practice is hardly a “grotesque relic.”

Still, the chart that states ‘constitutional monarchies are richer and healthier’ is not subtle, and I’m sure Matthews doesn’t mean to argue that Nicaragua or Paraguay or Kyrgyzstan would today have a GDP per capita of $40,000 if only they had introduced monarchies a century ago.  Nor do I believe Matthews would defend the absolute monarchy of Swaziland, which boasts the world’s highest HIV/AIDS rate and where GDP per capita routinely falls even below that of neighboring South Africa.  Is Swaziland better off today from the benevolence of  King Mswati III?  I don’t find that argument credible.

Thereupon, Matthews points to countries like Germany, Italy, Israel, Ireland, and India, which all have elected, mostly ceremonial, presidents:

Opponents of constitutional monarchy often point to this as their preferred alternative. The British group Republic supports abolishing the monarchy and replacing it with a directly elected president, and estimates that the British royal family costs almost ten times as much as the German president. So why not just do that, then?

But that sets up a false equivalency — at one point, Matthews writes, ‘ If Britain chose to depose its divinely ordained rulers, it’d still need a head of state.’

And that’s just not true.  There’s no theorem of international relations that requires a parliamentary system to have a separate head of state.  Matthews notes that only the sultans of Brunei and Oman simultaneously serve as prime minister.  But in the United States, the president also essentially serves as the simultaneous head of state and head of government (unless you’d like to argue that John Boehner, speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, or Harry Reid, the U.S. Senate majority leader, are the heads of government, though I think it would be a difficult argument).  In any event, even if we don’t particularly prefer the Bruneian or Omanese models, it doesn’t mean that it’s a bad model from an abstract governance standpoint.

The only rationale in favor of having a ceremonial head of state is for purposes of national unity.  In Spain, for example, the return of Juan Carlos I was an important step in the transition from the Franco dictatorship to robust democratic Spanish state we recognize today.  But that example isn’t theoretical, it’s grounded in time and place to specific historical events, and it doesn’t provide a rationale for any other European monarch or ceremonial president, least of all in the United Kingdom.  The existence of the British monarchy hasn’t stopped the push for devolution and even independence in Scotland, for example, and there’s no reason to believe an elected president would make any difference.  Continue reading Are constitutional monarchies better than presidential republics? Correlation ≠ causation!

Willem-Alexander sworn in as first Dutch king since 1890


Willem-Alexander became the king of the Netherlands today, succeeding his mother, Beatrix, who abdicated the throne, having served as the monarch of the Netherlands since 1980. Netherlands Flag Icon

The Dutch head of state, notably, is a highly ceremonial role.  What’s key to remember is that following the 2010 election, the Dutch monarch is no longer the key player in appointing an informateur following parliamentary elections to kick off coalition talks, given the prevalence of a half-dozen or more parties in the Netherlands.  The 2013 coalition formation process was determined solely through the Dutch parliament, bypassing royal input altogether, and the process actually took even less time.

So Willem-Alexander will be assuming the throne with the least amount of institutional power over Dutch government than any of his successors.

It’s not even a coronation as such because the Netherlands no longer has a state church, so there’s no one to administer a coronation, apparently.

Much more here from The Guardian.  More here from NRC if you speak Dutch (or are otherwise curious).

He’s pictured above with his wife, Queen Maxima — their daughter, Catharina-Amalia, at age nine, becomes princess of Orange and heir to the throne, so expect a return to the long line of female Dutch monarchs.

Beatrix succeeded her own mother, Juliana, who reigned from 1948 until her own abdication in 1980.  Beatrix’s grandmother, Wilhelmina, served as queen from 1890 until abdicating in favor of Juliana in 1948.  This marks the third consecutive abdication of a Dutch monarch — it’s a marked contrast to the British model, where Elizabeth II continues a reign that began in 1952.