Constitutional Monarchy | Definition, Features, Merits & Demerits
What is the Constitutional Monarchy?
A constitutional monarchy is a form of monarchical government (that is, exercised by a king or queen) in which there is a separation of powers and therefore the king shares political power with other institutions, such as a parliament and a court of law.
Generally, in this type of monarchy, the king is in charge of the executive power, although it is also common for him to exercise the leadership of the State in a purely ceremonial or representative sense.
In any case, constitutional monarchies are characterized by reconciling the life authority of the king, with republican institutions, under the rule of law (that is, submitting to the normative framework of the Constitution). In this these monarchies differ from absolute monarchies, in which the will of the monarch becomes law.
Constitutional monarchies can coexist with democratic government regimes, in which the representatives of the public powers are elected, despite the fact that the figure of the king is not submitted to the vote, but is hereditary.
It is also possible that they coexist with modern anti-democratic regimes, as happened with fascism in the mid-twentieth century in Italy and Japan, or with military dictatorships such as the Thai one in 2007. The constitutional monarchy is only a guarantee that the powers of the king are subject to what the law dictates.
At present, however, most constitutional monarchies are of the parliamentary type, that is, parliamentary monarchies.
Characteristics of the Constitutional Monarchy
In general, constitutional monarchies are characterized by the following:
- They maintain a monarchical order in which a king inherits the crown from his descendants, but unlike absolute monarchies, this title does not grant powers and authority over and above what is established in the law.
- There is a National Constitution in which the powers of the crown are defined and delimited, and which guarantees the separation and independence of the three public powers: executive, legislative and judicial.
- It is common for the king to fulfill ceremonial, traditional and representative functions, becoming a national symbol rather than a real political actor. That, however, does not exclude him from the forces that make up the state.
- They are contemporary forms of monarchy, which appeared after the fall of absolutism and the Old Regime between the 18th and 19th centuries.
Countries with Constitutional Monarchy
Today there are numerous countries whose State is administered through a constitutional monarchy, such as:
- Great Britain and the United Kingdom
Constitutional Monarchy and Parliamentary Monarchy: Significant
In a certain sense, the parliamentary monarchy is a form of constitutional monarchy, since the powers of the king are contemplated in the laws and limited by the other public powers. But unlike constitutional monarchies in which the king retains control of the executive power, in parliamentary monarchies “the king reigns, but does not rule“.
This means that the legislative power, in the hands of a national parliament or assembly, also elects a Prime Minister who exercises the leadership of the nation. On the contrary, the acting monarch fulfills rather a representative role, subject to the designs of the parliament, and usually dedicated to diplomatic tasks.
Most of the contemporary constitutional monarchies are of the parliamentary type. Although the king and the royal family enjoy certain privileges, the rest of the nation functions as expected from a republican democracy.
Constitutional Monarchy and Républican Government
The fundamental difference between all forms of monarchy and all forms of republic is that in republican systems sovereignty is found in the country’s own people, who exercise it through their more or less direct participation in the affairs and decisions of the State, especially through suffrage.
On the other hand, monarchies grant certain powers to a private person and his heirs, without this authority being endorsed by the people.
However, the limits between republic and monarchy begin to become less evident in the constitutional monarchy, since the rule of law and the separation of public powers, essential for republican life, are established in this case in the National Constitution. Even more similar is the case of the parliamentary monarchy, in which the monarch fulfills very limited roles and is subject to the discretion of the parliament.
But this was not always the case, and modern struggles against the absolutist monarchy in the 18th and 19th centuries were largely driven by republican ideals: the famous liberty, equality, brotherhood of the French Revolution of 1789.