During the leadup to the 1999 referendum, there was a concerted campaign to discredit the very word “republic” by linking it to some of the nastiest regimes on the face of the earth, such as Iraq, North Korea, and of course several African dictatorships (guaranteed to push a few racist buttons!). We were told, over and over again, that monarchies are inherently better at protecting individual freedoms, though of course the evidence was either totally lacking, or an insult to our intelligence.
A FEW people brought up counter-examples, such as the barbaric medieval monarchy of Saudi Arabia, and the plutocratic royal family of Brunei, who have looted their country’s oil wealth and ruled by emergency decree since dissolving the elected parliament and suppressing democratic organizations in 1964, with British help.
Now it’s time for a more scientific approach. The US organization Freedom House (www.freedomhouse.org) rates all countries for their level of freedom and every year releases a score. It looks at "civil liberties" and gives a rating on a 7-point scale, with 1 denoting freedom and 7 a repressive police state. Freedom House also publishes "political rights" rankings, denoting how democratic a country is, and these are usually close to the liberties ratings. Let’s go around the world, comparing republics (R) and monarchies (M) that seem to be culturally and economically similar using the 2010 result.
Europe (West): France (R) 1; UK (M) 1.
Europe (North): Finland (R) 1; Sweden (M) 1.
North America: USA (R) 1, Canada (M) 1.
Middle East: Egypt (R) 5; Saudi Arabia (M) 6.
Asia (South-East): Indonesia (R) 3; Malaysia (M) 4.
(Yes, the Indonesian Republic is ahead of monarchist Malaysia! And the Kingdom of Brunei is right down at 5.)
Asia (North): Taiwan (R) 2; Japan (M) 2.
Pacific: Fiji (R) 4, Vanuatu (R) 2, Solomon Islands (M) 3, Tonga (M) 3.
The obvious conclusion? The level of freedom enjoyed by a country’s people has no relationship to whether it is a monarchy or a republic. Other factors are involved, particularly the degree of engagement by the people in the system of government, which is exactly what republicans are trying to encourage in Australia.