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Thursday, May 23, 2024

Calls go out for monarchy mandate

Flags would be hoisted all over Norway on Friday, and canons fired, to mark the 39th birthday of Crown Prince Haakon. The heir to Norway’s throne enjoys widespread public support, but calls have gone out recently at both ends of the political spectrum in Norway for a new voter referendum on the future of the monarchy.

Crown Prince Haakon (right) is due to succeed his father, King Harald V, as monarch, but some think Haakon should ask for a referendum and become an elected king. PHOTO: Det kongelige hoff/Sølve Sundsbø

Some feel the crown prince should have a solid, confirmed mandate from voting Norwegians before taking over as monarch upon the death of his father, King Harald V, who turned 75 in February. Both King Harald and his own father, the late King Olav V, inherited their roles, while Olav’s father, King Haakon VII, called for a public referendum before he took over as the country first modern monarch after Norway achieved sovereignty in 1905.

King Haakon VII was born a Danish prince, and offered the throne by Norwegian leaders at the time. He was keen to accept, but wanted to make sure he had the support of the people and got it. In November 1905, 79 percent of qualified Norwegian male voters (women were still denied the vote back then) approved of Prince Carl as their new king, while 21 percent did not approve.

Historians have pointed out since that the referendum of 1905 really wasn’t a vote on favouring a monarchy over a republic, but “yes” or “no” to the Danish prince. Most of Europe still had monarchies at the time, with a czar in Russia and a kaiser in Germany, and Norway wanted to be among them. A majority of Norwegians still favour their monarchy, according to recent public opinion polls, but only a referendum could confirm such support.

Lars Martin Mediaas, secretary general of the left-center think tank Progressiv, hopes Crown Prince Haakon will be as brave as his great-grandfather Haakon and ask for a public referendum on his succession. “We need an elected monarch,” Mediaas told newspaper Aftenposten earlier this summer. “Haakon needs the people’s confidence before he ascends.”

Left-leaning politicians have often been Norway’s most ardent republicans, with the Socialist Left party (SV) on record as supporting a republic over a monarchy even though SV is a member of the current government. Mediaas, however, has drawn support from veterans on the right side of Norwegian politics including the right-leaning think tank Civita.

Crown Prince Haakon and Crown Princess Mette-Marit will spend much of Haakon's birthday weekend carrying out official duties. PHOTO: Det kongelige hoff/Sølve Sundsbø

“Given that (Norway’s) democracy is considerably broader today (than it was in 1905), it wouldn’t hurt to have a new referendum, out of consideration for the legitimacy of the monarchy,” historian Eirik Løkke, a member of Civita, told Aftenposten. His colleague in Civita, lawyer Morten Kinander, agreed, but they added that Crown Prince Haakon “should then ask for a referendum on the monarchy as an institution, and not himself as a person.”

Mediaas thinks Haakon would receive a strong mandate from Norwegians, “but he should get that confidence through a vote,” he said. “It’s time for an elected monarch.”

Former Prime Minister Kåre Willoch of the Conservative Party told Norwegian magazine Ny Tid in June that he wouldn’t rule out a referendum being useful, especially if any conflict arises over the monarchy.

Willoch thinks the King Harald and Queen Sonja do a good job, and he sees no need to vote on who will represent Norwegians as head of state. “But I won’t rule it out if there’s any dispute over the monarchy in the future,” Willoch told Ny Tid.

Crown Prince Haakon has traditionally refused to comment on the future of the monarchy, leaving that up to politicians. Meanwhile, he and other members of the royal family planned to spend his birthday weekend in the public spotlight once again, not because of the birthday itself but to take part in officials duties, this time the planned memorials on Sunday to the victims of last year’s terrorist attacks.

Haakon and his wife, Crown Princess Mette-Marit, would join his parents for wreath-laying Sunday morning at the government complex that was bombed on July 22, 2011. While King Harald and Queen Sonja attend a special church service at the Oslo Cathedral following that ceremony, the crown couple would attend a similar service at Hole Church, near the site of the massacre on the island of Utøya that followed the bombing. The couple would also attend a luncheon for survivors and victims’ families on Sunday, and Haakon would be in the audience at a memorial concert starting at 8pm Sunday at the City Hall Plaza in Oslo. It was expected to draw as many as 100,000 people.

Duty calls next week as well, despite Norway’s traditional summer holidays in July. Crown Princess Mette-Marit planned to take part in an international AIDS conference in Washington DC on July 25-26, and then both she and Crown Prince Haakon will represent Norway when the Summer Olympics get underway in London on July 27.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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