Within a constitutional monarchy, the individual acting as the head of the government does not have absolute control. Instead, the monarch must exercise their authority according to the instructions provided by a constitution. The constitution may be a formal document, but it could also be an unwritten set of stipulations that must be followed.
A constitutional monarchy can offer zero formal authority, like it does in Japan. It may also offer the monarch a substantial amount of discretion when governing, like it does in Morocco.
The primary benefit of a constitutional monarchy is that it provides governing continuity. Instead of relying on a peaceful transition of power between different political parties, there is stability in knowing who the next monarch will be when the current individual steps away from their governing power.
The primary disadvantage of a constitutional monarchy is that it requires individuals to be in a position of political power, even if that is not what they want to do. Monarchs gain their position by a rule of succession, so there is no guarantee that the next monarch will be fair, just, or interested in the position. There is little that the public can do to remove a disinterested monarch from power.
Here are some additional constitutional monarchy pros and cons to think about and discuss.
List of Additional Constitutional Monarchy Pros
1. It provides a system of checks and balances.
A constitutional monarchy creates a system of checks and balances that prevents one governing body or individual from obtaining too much power. This makes it necessary for compromise and negotiation to be part of the legislative process. Without this system, the monarch could simply rule by decree alone.
2. It retains a cultural identity.
Monarchies have been an important part of human history. The kings and queens of the past are an integral part of the national identity for countries that have embraced this form of government. Being interested in a royal family is more than “pop culture.” It is a way to feel connected with other people, express patriotism, and take pride in who that person is and what they do.
3. The government can offer enhanced security.
One of the biggest threats to a government isn’t from foreign enemies. It comes from domestic dissent. Since 2010, there have been 30+ coups and attempted coups of governments around the world. By having a constitutional monarchy in place, there is an enhanced level of security for the general population because there are fewer opportunities to create a domestic uprising against the government. It is a government for the people and that makes it easier for the people to support the government – even if they disagree with what it is doing.
4. The monarch in a constitutional monarchy is apolitical.
The goal of the monarch in a constitutional monarchy is to stay neutral. Their job isn’t to make the head of the government look great or look bad. The monarch gets out of the way of most political processes to focus on building up the reputation of the country instead. At the same time, the monarch often has powers kept in reserve that can prevent politics from going to extremes. If the monarch doesn’t like the approach being taken, then one conversation may be all that is required to make needed changes.
5. It is possible for the monarch to be self-financed.
A good example of a constitutional monarchy being self-financed can be found in the United Kingdom. The royal estates that are used by the family are administered by the government. 85% of the generated revenues goes directly to the government, while the remainder is used to help maintain the royal household.
6. Political change is still possible.
In a constitutional monarchy, elections are still held on a regular basis. They may be routinely scheduled at specific dates or ordered by the government by a specific deadline. That gives the people a chance to express a need for change should they wish it.
List of Additional Constitutional Monarchy Cons
1. It can be a costly form of government.
In many constitutional monarchies, the individual in power often pulls a hefty income, sometimes with very little responsibility to earn their salary. Some monarchs are even exempt from paying taxes. In a 2003 report by The Telegraph, the Emperor of Japan spends more than $200 million in public money annually. This includes having four doctors on call at all times, 5 wardrobe attendants, and 11 people who help with Shinto rites.
2. It may be difficult to create social change.
No matter how limited or expansive the powers of a monarch may be because of a constitution, there is still another layer of government that must be consulted before decisions must be made. If the monarch disagrees with an idea, then it may mean taking the entire thing back to square one. Using the United States as an example, imagine the President being forced to consult with a monarch before being able to sign legislation into law. That is the reality of a constitutional monarchy.
3. The system tends to be slow.
A constitutional monarchy tends to be a very slow form of governing. Because there are ministers, senators, representatives, and other politicians involved in decision-making events, the monarch is often required to consult with all parties, groups, and members before moving forward with a decision. That can make the government become unresponsive during critical situations, even if a prime minister is placed in charge of daily decisions outside of the monarch’s influence.
4. This form of government can be quite difficult to change.
Constitutional monarchies are often very difficult to evolve because of the complexity of its structure. Unwritten constitutions even create difficulties because the rules, though unwritten, have a tradition of being followed. Changing the rules creates objections within the various layers of government that must be resolved before any internal change would become possible.
5. Some may see a constitutional monarchy as a sign of oppression.
In the past, a monarchy was usually built upon the backs of the working class. The monarch received the wealth and outcomes of labor, while the working class got by with just enough to survive – if they were lucky. A constitutional monarchy is still a throwback to this era, which means it is seen as an elitist family in a position of privileged success that they didn’t work to earn.
These constitutional monarchy pros and cons describe a government that can be balanced and effective, but only if it is properly managed. Open lines of communication between all layers of government are essential for a constitutional monarchy to experience long-term success.