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a community network dedicated to Australian independence through the
patriation and modernisation of the Australian Crown
Nepalese Crown Smashed to Pieces
KATHMANDU, 28th May 2008
After many years of a civil war that eventually ground to a stalemate with Maoist guerillas controlling much of the countryside while the government retained the major towns and cities, an armistice followed by elections for a constituent assembly gave the Maoists a virtual freehand to rewrite the constitution. The Nepalese monarchy has been in serious trouble since June 2001 when the Crown Prince murdered the king, queen and several other members of the royal family before also killing himself. The throne passed to the king's brother Gyanendra amid rumours that he had orchestrated the royal massacre. In 2005 he closed down the parliament and tried to rule by royal fiat until public demonstrations forced him to recant, but not before all political parties had finally found one area of common ground: the king had to go.
Not surprisingly, the first item of business in the new constituent assembly was a vote to abolish the Crown. It was perhaps an unconscious irony that a country bordering Chinese-occupied Tibet and controlled by a Maoist assembly was described by a breathless Herald as now being "...an independent, indivisible, sovereign, secular and inclusive democratic republic." Secularity may well be the only long term achievement in this string of adjectives.
Are there any lessons for the Australian Crown in the this? The first might be that a sovereign should never assume the executive functions of state and enter into the divisive world of partisan politics. Even if the law or constitutional practise provides for such a role, it must be kept minimal and for the shortest period of time possible. The seductive appeal of a 'national emergency' has given the world many dictators, none of them particularly inspirational or with any long-lasting contribution to their society. The true value of the Crown lies in its cultural roles and functions.
The second might be that the Australian Crown cannot rely upon the practise of primogeniture or other formulaic means of royal succession. The only exception might be in interim situations when a regent is unexpectedly needed, but even then a regency should only be regarded as temporary and a preparation for succession. Elective monarchy ensures that ill-prepared demagogues will be removed from a line of succession before they can get their hands on the crown.
The third may be relevant for the looming 'quinquenium' between plebiscite and referendum. King Gyanendra refused to abdicate at any of several points following the failure of his parliamentary coup, and remained on the throne until the assembly abolished the crown and evicted him from the palace. A wiser, or at least less conceited, sovereign would have stepped down and ensured that a successor, untainted by the current roubles, was installed and given a chance to turn things around or, if that was already too late, then provide a rallying point for a restoration movement to develop. The analogy with Italy's King Vittorio Emmenuele III in 1946 are all too obvious.
King Gyanendra was, in reality, the master of his own destruction, and the destruction of the Nepali Crown and the centuries-old Shah dynasty. At every point he made the wrong choice. He was never meant to be king, and paid a catastrophic price. Australian constitutionalism tends to obscure any comparisons with other crowns, but lessons need to be learnt if the Australian Crown is to survive the renewed attack by the ivory coalition of anglophobes, queenhaters and crown bashers that passes for 'republicanism' in Australia.
2020 Summit Lays A Dev Egg
CANBERRA, 20th April 2008
The only details to emerge are of a 'two stage' process for achieving the change. Stage one is the holding of a plebiscite to confirm that the Crown is to be overthrown, and then five years later in stage two the holding of a referendum to change the constitution to implement a republican form of governance that had been agreed upon in the intervening period. It could be called the 'De Valera Model'.
A plebiscite is like a referendum, usually held to determine some important public question. The outcome is not binding on a government, and no change is made to the constitution. Plebiscites are also usually distinguished in universal voting systems like Australia's by being voluntary. An example in Australian history is the two divisive plebiscites, although usually called referenda, held in 1916 and 1917 on military conscription; or that held in 1977 to select a new national anthem. An example of voluntary voting is the voluntary postal ballot conducted in 1997 to select members of a constitutional convention to consider the question of a republic or a monarchy, in which a total of 47% of eligible voters cast a ballot.
The proposed plebiscite at 'stage one' appears to be considered a mere formality, with the great majority of Australians eager to throw out the Queen and install a president by whatever means it takes. The choice of a plebiscite at stage one is not a surprising tactic, given the republican's victory in the 1997 voluntary election for the Constitutional Convention.
No timetable has been announced, although it is possible that the plebiscite may be scheduled to be held in conjunction with the next federal election in 2011.
Republican and monarchist groups have been surprisingly reticent to comment to date. Those that have sound unenthusiastic and unprepared, although this may change. Republicans have pointedly talked about an 'Australian head of state', and avoided words such as republic and president. However, for the time being it sounds like yesterday's people arguing over yesterday's issues. Same old, same old...
From Constitutional Convention to Republic Referendum: A Guide to the Processes, the Issues and the Participants (1999), Parliamentary Library - useful data and analysis on voting patterns and public opinion surveys in the 1990s.