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A vice-regal representative is no advantage

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Lewis Holden refutes the oft-made assertion that having the Queen's representative to sort out Constitutional problems is better than having an elected head of state.

Bob Finch, chairman of the Canadian Monarchist League, writes on the Australian election's non-outcome:
"...the most reassuring fact is that the person who holds the ultimate authority in sorting out this political quandary is not a politician at all but rather a non-partisan vice-regal who represents the non-partisan Queen."

Finch also repeats the slightly inaccurate assertion that it is the Queen who appoints and removes the Governor-General, not the Prime Minister (it's interesting how that argument shifts to fit the 'facts'). The fact is a prime minister 'advises' the Queen on who the Governor-General should be, and that's that. There's no precedent for the Queen rejecting that advice, even when Prime Ministers have removed Governors-General from office. Hence the Queen's alleged non-partisanship is irrelevant.

But back to the old non-partisan chestnut. The problem with Finch's assertion is that even if we accepted that prime ministerial appointment leads to a neutral candidate, the fact is that doesn't mean governors-general are without conflicts of interest. It's now well-known that Australia's current governor-general has links through her son-in-law to one of the parties vying to lead Australia for the next three years. That alone isn't really a problem— at the end of the day the governor-general's political views are irrelevant. It's the hard numbers in the House of Representatives that matter.

Monarchists like to claim functioning parliamentary democracies are down to having "neutral" heads of state. That is simply a false attribution. If it were true, then we would see a lot of instability in the parliamentary republics of the world. But looking back at close elections in republics over the last fifty years, it becomes obvious that parliamentary republics have an exemplary record.

Yitzhak Navon


For example:

  • Following inconclusive Israeli elections in 1977, Labor's Yitzhak Navon,won the non-executive presidency despite the governing Likud party having a majority. Israeli observers believed that, in counterbalance to Prime Minister Menahem Begin's polarizing leadership, Navon, the country's first president of Sephardi origin, provided Israel with unifying symbolic leadership at a time of great political controversy and upheaval.

  • Inconclusive elections in Finland in 1987 lead to the non-executive president of that country appointing a broad coalition, including conservatives, centrists and socialists, despite the president's own social democrat background.

  • Meanwhile, following the German federal election of 2005, the non-executive president, a former member of the social democrats, appointed a grand coalition of conservatives and social democrats after Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats won just four more seats than the governing party.

  • And that's just three examples I unearthed from a fairly quick look at recent tight electoral races. There's probably plenty more, although as in the German case most Parliamentary republics actually just put the issue to a vote of confidence, rather than make the appointment of the head of government a decision for their head of state.

    Once again, the monarchist rhetoric doesn't have any relation to reality. The above examples all show that it's much better to have an elected head of state than an unelected official, appointed more often than not by the incumbent party's prime minister (Australia's example is unique, only because the prime minister who appointed Quentin Bryce was unceremoniously dumped).

    What's more, despite monarchists complaining about an elected head of state having a "mandate", the fact is that that mandate gives them much more legitimacy and accountability for their actions than a Governor-General ever has. The people of Australia might respect the Queen, but the thought of Her Majesty or her representative intervening in the democratic process is an anathema to them.  
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