The List: King for a Day or Two
With democracy flourishing in most corners of the globe, the very idea of monarchy seems a quaint throwback to a bygone age. And today, many are the kings who sit uneasily on their thrones. For this week’s List, FP looks at some of the royal families who just might be on their way out.
LISE AASERUD/AFP/Getty Images
LISE AASERUD/AFP/Getty Images
Whos on the throne: King Harald V
Royal bling: Running the monarchy costs an estimated 115 million kroner ($18 million) per year. But the royal family may be running a deficit after a busy year celebrating the countrys 100th anniversary in 2005.
Enemies of the regime: The tabloids. Crown Prince Haakons marriage to commoner Mette-Marit Tjessem Hoiby, an unwed mother whose ex-boyfriend was convicted on drug-related charges, sent the monarchys popularity plummeting to all-time lows. Some members of parliament even pushed to explore the potential consequences of becoming a republic. The crown princesss tearful apology on national television for her scandalous past smoothed things over for a while, but the tabloids didnt have to wait long for their next scandal. Princess Martha Louise, fourth in line to the throne, claims she can communicate with angels and will share her gifts with anyone who pays $4,150 for the three-year program at her new alternative therapy institute. This has lead to calls for the psychic princess to drop her royal title.
Odds of survival: Negligible. Two years ago, famed royalty reporter Jaime Peafiel put his money on Norway as the first European monarchy to go. Its a smart betunless, of course, there is some sort of angelic intervention.
PORNCHAI KITTIWONGSAKUL/AFP/Getty Images
Whos on the throne: King Bhumibol Adulyadej
Royal bling: One of the richest men in the world, the king controls $5 billion in shares through the government-established Crown Property Bureau. But he shuns the lavish lifestyle of other monarchs: He reportedly eats the cheapest form of unmilled rice and spends much of his wealth on development projects.
Enemies of the regime: Not too many, but those considering it tend to keep quiet; insulting his highness publicly is a crime. Unlike other monarchs, King Bhumibol has been quite active in the politics of his country. He has survived 18 coups dtat and 26 changes of prime minister. The countrys political system has been in a state of uncertainty after the military overthrow of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra in September 2006. But throughout all this turmoil, the monarch has remained extremely popular. Just step into the streets on a Monday (the day of the week the king was born), and you will be surrounded by a sea of yellow, the official color of the monarchy. Bhumibol turns 80 in December, and millions of Thais are already sporting yellow Long Live the King wristbands.
Odds of survival: Strong. Bhumibol celebrated his 60th year in power in 2006 and is sitting pretty as the worlds longest-reigning monarch.
DEVENDRA MAN SINGH/AFP/Getty Images
Whos on the throne: King Gyanendra
Royal bling: A pittance, relative to his fellow monarchs. The 2007-2008 budget apparently gives the enfeebled monarch $1.24 million to pay his staff, $310,080 to maintain the royal palace, and a $387,600 salary. To put this in perspective, the prime ministers paycheck is reportedly $388, and average GNP per capita in this small, mountainous country is $270.
Enemies of the regime: The Maoists. Committed to a struggle that has lasted a decade and claimed the lives of 13,000 citizens, the Maoist insurgency ultimately seeks to replace the parliamentary monarchy with a Marxist republic. They laid down their arms last year to join in a temporary coalition with the government, but rebel leaders say the country cannot move forward until the monarchy is abolished. King Gyanendra is also not a favorite among human rights activists, who point to the mass arrests of political opponents and journalists that followed his declaration of a state of emergency back in 2005. Since weeks of pro-democracy demonstrations put an end to authoritarian rule last April, the kings picture has been removed from currencies, his birthday is no longer a national holiday, and any mention of the monarchy has been dropped from the national anthem. Elections are scheduled for November to elect a constituent assembly, which will be tasked with writing a new constitutionmost likely, itll be one without Gyanendra.
Odds of survival: Slim. Its only a matter of time before Gyanendra goes.
FATI MOALUSI/AFP/Getty Images
Whos on the throne: King Mswati III, but you can call him the Lion.
Royal bling: Mswati just cant seem to live without expensive cars and grand palaces. The government reportedly spent the equivalent of half the national debt on new cars, as well as nearly $100 million on a new airport that can accommodate jumbo jets. But what can you expect? Having 13 wives can get a bit expensive.
Enemies of the regime: Few, but growing. Five thousand demonstrators gathered in the capital city of Mbabane at the end of July to demand that multiparty elections be held in a country where political parties have been banned since a 1973 decree allowed the king to rule with complete, authoritarian control. The main opposition group, the Peoples United Democratic Movement, has adamantly called for political reform. And in a country with one of the worlds highest rates of HIV/AIDS, unemployment at 40 percent, and 70 percent of the population living in poverty, the kings extravagance provides an easy target for channeling popular discontent.
Odds of survival: Good. Just getting enough to eat each day remains the top priority for a majority of the population; that doesnt leave much time for political activism. Any change will require outside pressure.
KAREN BLEIER/AFP/Getty Images
Whos on the throne: King Hamad. Starting off his reign as an emir (prince), he became a king when the country went from an emirate to a constitutional monarchy in 2002.
Royal bling: Theres nothing like sitting atop abundant oil reserves and some of the most prime real estate in the world. So as long as the oil keeps flowing and luxury resorts keep popping up along the coast, the royal family will have no trouble paying its bills.
Enemies of the regime: Sectarianism. The Shiite majority, representing as much as 70 percent of the population of 700,000 people, strongly resents the ruling Sunni class. King Hamad, who is Sunni, was able to quell the civil unrest that rocked this island nation in the 1990s by introducing political reforms, such as parliamentary elections. But last Decembers elections were marred by allegations of Sunni attempts to disenfranchise Shiite voters, and dozens of riots have reportedly taken place in Shiite villages since the beginning of the year. Fearing a Shiite revival in the Middle East fueled by the sectarian clash in Iraq, the royal family is quick to point fingers across the Gulf at Shiite Iran. But the high unemployment rate and political marginalization of Bahrains Shiite subjects are probably reason enough for Shiite discontent.
Odds of survival: Good. Bahrain is home to the U.S. Navys Fifth Fleet, and this means Hamad is sitting comfortably on his throne despite all the brouhaha.
Click here to see our complete archive of FP Lists.
More from Foreign Policy
Saudi-Iranian Détente Is a Wake-Up Call for America
The peace plan is a big deal—and it’s no accident that China brokered it.
The U.S.-Israel Relationship No Longer Makes Sense
If Israel and its supporters want the country to continue receiving U.S. largesse, they will need to come up with a new narrative.
Putin Is Trapped in the Sunk-Cost Fallacy of War
Moscow is grasping for meaning in a meaningless invasion.
How China’s Saudi-Iran Deal Can Serve U.S. Interests
And why there’s less to Beijing’s diplomatic breakthrough than meets the eye.