A monarch is the head of a state or territory for life or until abdication. In a constitutional monarchy, monarchs are given restrictions on their ability to rule as specified by a constitution.
Absolute monarchy should not be confused with constitutional monarchy. In an absolute monarchy, the monarch is an autocrat who is responsible for the executive, judicial and legislative forms. Constitutional monarchies differ from absolute monarchies in that the monarch is guided by a legal framework (for example, a constitution) that prevents power from being overblown.
The ancient Hittites are credited with having the world’s oldest constitutional monarchy. The Hittites lived in the Bronze Age. Its kings or queens shared government with the Panku, a group of nobility similar to the present-day assembly or legislature.
Rule of Power
Constitutional monarchies are found in various countries and sovereign states around the world, including Monaco, Morocco, Jordan, Bahrain, Kuwait, Spain, Belgium, Sweden, Japan, and the United Kingdom.
The United Kingdom is perhaps the most famous of the constitutional monarchies. Queen Elizabeth and her royal family are highly visible and known as celebrities around the world. However, in Spain, Belgium, Sweden and Japan, as in the United Kingdom, the monarch does not have a formal governing authority.
In fact, British historian and politician Thomas Macaulay, political scientist Vernon Bogdanor, in his own account, describes the nature of constitutional monarchy as “a sovereign who rules but does not rule”.
In England in 1688, the Glorious Revolution resulted in a constitutional monarchy. The restrictions to this rule were determined by the Bill of Rights of 1689 and the Settlement Act of 1701. However, a limited monarchy was outlined centuries ago in the Magna Carta in 1215. Queen Victoria is noted as the last British monarch to engage in any political maneuvering during her reign.
What Does a Constitutional Monarchy Really Do?
Constitutional monarchs may not rule like presidents or prime ministers, but the government will usually operate on their behalf. Again using the example of the United Kingdom, the Queen serves more as a symbol of national unity.
Still, a constitutional monarch may have powers in Parliament or legislation, but this must be specified by the constitution. According to the late British political theorist Walter Bagehot, a constitutional monarch has the right to be consulted, encouraged and warned of his political rights.
Constitutional Monarchies of Today
A modern form of constitutional monarchy was developed in England. An elected parliament led by the Prime Minister is the people in power. The Queen and her family are still in the role of representing the nation according to tradition, but the job of governing is done by the Parliament.
The United Kingdom is one of sixteen constitutional monarchies known as Commonwealth kingdoms. Others are Antigua and Barbuda, Australia, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Canada, Grenada, Jamaica, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Solomon Islands and Tuvalu.
Not all countries in Europe follow the same constitutional monarchy rules. In Belgium and Denmark, the monarch has an appointed representative who oversees the coalition government after parliamentary elections. In Norway, the king will preside over certain cabinet meetings.
In some countries, such as Japan and Sweden, the constitution has been amended so that the monarch does not serve the government, even in a nominal capacity. These monarchs are traditional symbols of a once-existing political power.
Writer: Can Baskin