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By Caroline Davies
(Filed: 14/06/2006)

Thailand's king proves the staying power of monarchy

Their smiles were regal, their regalia and jewels dazzling. In all, royals from 22 of the world's 28 constitutional monarchies, as well as other royal families, gathered together under the golden dome of the Ananda Samakhom throne hall in Bangkok for a group photograph to mark the diamond jubilee of Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

Outside, the Royal Plaza was a sea of yellow as more than a million Thais celebrated their king's remarkable milestone. They cheered as the royal barge procession of 52 carved golden craft made its way up river, propelled by 2,000 oarsmen chanting in unison: "When calamity and crisis befall the Thai people, leaving them on the verge of chaos and confusion, His Majesty can set us upright again and restore our despondent hearts".

So say Bhumibol's subjects. But also, though perhaps not in such overblown terms, do the subjects of the other monarchs whose representatives assembled for a unique photograph.

These are the hard-core survivors, members of royal dynasties who have weathered political turbulence and mass uprisings that dethroned - in some cases, decapitated - royalty across the globe.

Republicans may gleefully predict these houses, too, will fall. But, looking at the health of the countries they reign over, reports of the death of the monarchy appear to have been greatly exaggerated.

Thailand is an excellent example of just why the remaining constitutional monarchies are not only surviving, but also thriving. Becoming fashionable, even.

During his 60 years on the throne, Bhumibol has reigned through 14 military coups and 17 constitutions. In a country where politicians are perceived as lazy and corrupt, he has been the stable and unifying force that has enabled it to run pretty smoothly despite political turmoil.

Those who dismiss the monarchy as an anachronism fail to see that, in many democracies, it is a benefit. It provides checks and balances against abuse of power by elected leaders. It plays the role of arbiter in divided societies. It allows a sense of continuity, which in turn leads to stability, which in turn usually leads to prosperity.

This is particularly evident in Spain, one of two countries to restore a monarchy in the past 50 years. Spain became a constitutional monarchy in 1975 with the coronation of King Juan Carlos, handpicked by Franco, though with the proviso "the crown must be earned every day". Since then, Spain has trodden a path of economic and social renewal.

Monarchy works well because Spain is a divided country. Juan Carlos is able to respect regional differences, yet at the same time make everyone feel "Spanish". On a visit to Barcelona, he spoke Catalan, the first time a Spanish king had done so since the Middle Ages.

It is a similar situation in Belgium, a linguistically and ethnically divided country. King Albert took his oath of office in French, German and Dutch and provides one of the few commonalities of his country's inhabitants.

Cambodia returned to a constitutional monarchy in 1991, when Prince Norodom Sihanouk returned to his country as King Sihanouk, after many years of bloody and destructive political strife.

Perhaps this is the way Serbia may go. Crown Prince Aleksander Karajordjevic, who was born in exile, would be happy to wear its crown should the monarchy be restored, optimistically promising the people "a Kingdom of Serbia would secure the fastest way to the European Union, attract new investment, assist economic growth and provide jobs, social protection, pensions and excellent education for our youngsters". Phew!

In Britain, majority support for the monarchy remains pretty constant, with a few little dips here and there. The one million who turned out on The Mall waving Union flags during the Queen's Golden Jubilee were proof of the value most attach to it, and of the esteem in which the Queen is held.

The popularity of Queen Beatrix of Holland and the chain-smoking Queen Margrethe of Denmark - the bicycling monarchies - is equally high.

Of course, monarchies must pay their way and fashion contemporary roles for themselves. Most do more than that in the business they help generate on official visits abroad, and by the publicity they attract, which in turn promotes their country.

Royal weddings help with the latter, and the European monarchies have been especially obliging on this front, as well as adopting the common touch. Crown Prince Felipe of Spain married divorced TV journalist Letizia Ortiz, Norway's Crown Prince Haakon picked single mother Mette-Marit Tjessem Hoiby for his bride, and Crown Prince Frederick of Denmark married Australian estate agent Mary Donaldson.

All brides have since produced heirs. And judging from the current state of affairs, the thrones will still be around to inherit way, way in the future.

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Posts: 6,815
Reply with quote  #2 
We monarchists don't get optimistic commentaries very often. So here's one to enjoy, though some aspects of modern monarchy mentioned may make traditionalists grit our teeth.
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