Adaptability is the jewel in the crown for monarchs

LONGEST-REIGNING MONARCH: Britain's Queen Elizabeth II turned 90 in April with high public approval ratings. But she has had her own share of backlash, over a "cold" response to the 1997 death of Princess Diana.


    Oct 17, 2016

    Adaptability is the jewel in the crown for monarchs


    THE adoration felt by his people for the late king of Thailand was unique but several modern monarchs have proved remarkably adept at maintaining public support for what many see as an outdated institution.

    The death of the long-serving King Bhumibol Adulyadej is being marked by an intense period of national mourning in Thailand, where he was seen as a stabilising father figure in troubled times.

    Britain's Queen Elizabeth II, who now takes over the mantle of the world's longest-reigning monarch after 64 years on the throne, is also hailed as a constant, unifying presence.

    She celebrated her 90th birthday in April with public approval ratings in Britain of 76 per cent - "ratings that politicians would die for", noted Professor Robert Hazell of University College London's Constitution Unit.

    Many other European monarchs are also enjoying strong public support, with the notable exception of Spain - which acts as a cautionary tale.

    The former king Juan Carlos won widespread respect after playing a major role in the transition to democracy after the death of long-time dictator Francisco Franco in 1975.

    But he abdicated two years ago amid a corruption scandal involving his daughter, and his son King Felipe VI is struggling to clean up the royal family's image.

    "Each generation has to renew the contract between the monarch and the people.

    "Monarchy cannot be taken for granted. It has to earn respect," said Prof Hazell.

    Denmark's Queen Margrethe II, who in 1972 became the first woman to take the helm of the oldest European monarchy, has managed to survive without any major controversies - and is wildly popular.

    King Harald V, who has reigned in Norway for 25 years, has similar approval ratings of 82 per cent.

    But Sweden's King Carl XVI Gustaf has struggled for more than 40 years to shed his image as a car-mad playboy, and allegations of affairs have taken their toll on his popularity.

    The latest poll, in March, found that 65 per cent of Swedes wanted to keep the monarchy and 24 per cent wanted to abolish it.

    In Spain, the corruption scandal surrounding Juan Carlos' daughter Cristina came after the king outraged Spaniards in 2012 by going elephant hunting in Botswana at the height of the country's recession.

    "There is a paradox here," said Professor Philip Murphy, director of the Institute of Commonwealth Studies.

    "On one hand, they seem often like permanent fixtures but, in today's climate of 24-hour news, they are quite vulnerable to personal scandals undermining their popularity quite seriously."

    Queen Elizabeth II has not always been so popular, suffering a public backlash over her apparently cold response to the 1997 death of Diana, the ex-wife of her son Prince Charles.

    But her reputation recovered and now the next generation, Charles' son William and his wife Kate, are injecting a new lease of life into the institution.

    "Monarchies frequently have to reinvent themselves, and find a new way of attracting popularity," said Prof Murphy.