Thursday, January 21, 2010

The magical monarchy

Writing in the Herald, Garth George objects to a "twink republic" (one where we twink out the words "Governor-General" and substitute "president", without changing the powers of the office) on the basis that:

A republic with a unicameral, half-elected Parliament and a weak, ceremonial president would be a recipe for democratic disaster.
But the only difference between our present arrangements and what George is objecting to is the nature of the head of state. At present, we live in a state with a unicameral, half-elected (to use George's words) Parliament and a weak, ceremonial monarch. So why would one be a disaster and the other not? The magic of monarchy?

This sort of magical thinking is common among monarchists. But what matters in constitutions is not people, but institutions. Our present constitutional framework works well at providing democratic and accountable government. Changing the means of appointment of the person at the top - but not their role or powers - is unlikely to significantly affect this.