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An elective monarchy is a monarchy ruled by an elected monarch, in contrast to a hereditary monarchy in which the office is automatically passed down as a family inheritance. The manner of election, the nature of candidate qualifications, and the electors vary from case to case. Historically it is not uncommon for elective monarchies to transform into hereditary ones over time, or for hereditary ones to acquire at least occasional elective aspects.
Evolution of elective monarchies 
Arguably the world's oldest method to determine succession was for a military leader to ascend to power through some sort of election. As the kingdoms grew larger and the societies became less egalitarian, the right to vote was restricted to an ever smaller portion of the population (for example local chieftains and/or the nobility).
Many, if not most, kingdoms were officially elective historically, though the candidates were typically only from the family of the deceased monarch. Eventually, however, most elected monarchies introduced hereditary succession, guaranteeing that the title and office stayed within the royal family and specifying, more or less precisely, the order of succession. Hereditary systems probably came into being in order to ensure greater stability and continuity, since the election and the period of interregnum associated with it had often been an opportunity for ambitious and powerful candidates to resort to violent or coercive means to achieve the throne. In fact, the problem of interregna is typical for monarchy in general, and has only been ameliorated (with a varying degree of success) by the new principle of succession.
Today, almost all monarchies are hereditary monarchies in which the monarchs come from one royal family with the office of sovereign being passed from one family member to another upon the death or abdication of the incumbent.
Historical examples 
The Hellenistic kings of Macedon and of Epirus were elected by the army, which was similar in composition to the ecclesia of democracies, the council of all free citizens. Military service often was linked with citizenship among the male members of the royal house.
In the ancient Kingdom of Rome, the kings were elected by the Assemblies. Once the Roman kings were overthrown, there remained an absolute prohibition for royal establishment in the Roman constitution, a prohibition which formally remained in place during imperial times, both Roman and Byzantine, although in practice the empire was an absolute monarchy. Therefore the office of Roman and Byzantine emperor remained vaguely elective (albeit with the election procedure never strictly defined, but generally understood to be a matter for the Senate) and heredity never was, and could never be, formally established in law. In order to bypass this prohibition and ensure dynastic continuity, many reigning Byzantine emperors had their heirs crowned co-emperor so that the throne could not be considered vacant at their own death and thus the need for succession by election would not arise.
In medieval Serbia a strong level of collective parliamentarism was being evolved, which elected the Prince. The rulers often in respect to tradition remained a member of the dynasty, even more so with the recognition as a Kingdom in 1077 and the title's restoration after loss in 1217 which strengthened the Monarch's authority, however they were elected all the way until even the Imperial period. It was only in the Byzantine-modelled later Serbian Despotate that the monarchy was de facto transferred into a hereditary monarchy.
Holy Roman Empire 
The Holy Roman Empire is perhaps the best-known example of an elective monarchy (although it eventually became unofficially hereditary); after the 15th century, the emperor was elected by a small council of nobles called prince-electors from within the House of Habsburg. Most of the electoral seats were hereditary (some were held by clerics, so-called archbishop-electors). Archbishop-electors and other prince-(arch)bishops were bishops, who were usually elected by the cathedral chapters as religious leaders, but simultaneously ruled as monarch (prince) a territory of imperial immediacy, which usually comprised a part of their diocesan territory. Thus the prince-bishoprics were elective monarchies too. The same holds true for prince-abbeys, whose prince-abbesses or prince-abbots were elected by a college of clerics and imperially appointed as princely rulers in a pertaining territory.
In Poland, after the death of the last Piast in 1370, Polish kings were initially elected by a small council; gradually, this privilege was granted to all members of the szlachta (Polish nobility). Kings of Poland and Grand Princes of Lithuania during the times of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (1569–1795) were elected by gatherings of crowds of nobles at a field in Wola, today a neighbourhood of Warsaw. Since in Poland all sons of a noble were nobles, and not only the eldest, every one of an estimated 500,000 nobles could potentially have participated in such elections in person - by far the widest franchise of any European country at the time. During the election period, the function of the king was performed by an interrex (usually in person of the primate of Poland). This unique Polish election was termed the free election (wolna elekcja).
The Venetian Republic employed an elaborate system whereby a Great Council, consisting of over 2000 Venetian aristocrats, elected a head of government, known as a doge, who served for life. The Republic was therefore controlled by the city's wealthy noble elite.
In 1800, leaders in Malta drafted a Declaration of Rights which was presented to the British Admiral Sir Alexander Ball, stating that they agreed to come "under the protection and sovereignty of the King of the free people, His Majesty the King of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland" - regarding the rule of the British King preferable to that of Napoleon's France and of the Knights of Malta, the two other choices available to them at the time. The Declaration further stated that "his Majesty has no right to cede these Islands to any power...if he chooses to withdraw his protection, and abandon his sovereignty, the right of electing another sovereign, or of the governing of these Islands, belongs to us, the inhabitants and aborigines alone, and without control."
A short-lived autonomous monarchy during World War II, the Principality of Pindus and Voivodship of Macedonia also was an elective monarchy.
Other examples 
A system of elective monarchy existed in Anglo-Saxon England (see Witenagemot), Visigothic Spain, and medieval Scandinavia and in the Principality of Transylvania. Medieval France was an elective monarchy at the time of the first Capetian kings; the kings however took the habit of, during their reign, having their son elected as successor. The election soon became a mere formality and vanished after the reign of Philip II of France.
At the start of the 20th century, the first monarchs of several newly independent nations were elected by parliaments: Norway is the prime example. Previously, following precedent set in newly independent Greece, new nations without a well-established hereditary royal family, often chose their own monarchs from among the established royal families of Europe, rather than elevate a member of the local power establishment, in the hope that a stable hereditary monarchy would eventually emerge from the process. The first king of Belgium, as well as the now-deposed royal families of Greece, Bulgaria, Albania (unsuccessfully) and Romania, were originally appointed in this manner.
In Africa, the Mali Empire functioned as both a constitutional and elective monarchy. The mansa (emperor) had to be approved by the Gbara or Great Assembly, despite hereditary claims. The Kingdom of Kongo was a purer example of an elective monarchy, where blood claims had even less pull. Nobles elected a king's successor, and it was common for the successor to be of a different family as his predecessor. This form of elective monarchy existed in the kingdom from its inception in around 1400 until its complete disintegration in the early 20th century.
Asia and Oceania 
The ancient Korean kingdom of Silla elected its first king by a conference of tribal and village elders in 57 BC; later, the monarchy of Silla became hereditary in nature.
In the Islamic World the Caliphs, successors to Muhammad, were originally elected by consensus of the community. The first four Caliphs were elected in this fashion as Sunni Muslims believed Muhammad had originally intended before Muawiyah, the fifth caliph, turned the Caliphate into what is known as the Umayyad Dynasty, a hereditary monarchy. In Sunni Islam, the first four elected caliphs were remembered as the Four Rightly Guided Caliphs. They were elected by a process known as Shura.
Other monarchs, such as the former Shah of Iran, have been required to undergo a parliamentary vote of approval before being allowed to ascend to the throne.
In 1858, the central tribes of North Island elected Potatau te Wherowhero as their monarch. The Tainui tribal elders have continued this tradition and the New Zealand Maori Kingitanga movement alive to the present.
The Americas 
An attempt to create an elective monarchy in the United States failed. Alexander Hamilton argued in a long speech before the Constitutional Convention of 1787 that the President of the United States should be an elective monarch, ruling for "good behavior" (i.e., for life, unless impeached) and with extensive powers. Hamilton believed that elective monarchs had sufficient power domestically to resist foreign corruption, yet there was enough domestic control over their behavior to prevent tyranny at home. His proposal was resoundingly voted down in favor of a four-year term with the possibility of reelection. In his later defense of the Constitution in the Federalist Papers, he often hints that a lifetime executive might be better, even as he praises the system with the four-year term.
The Empire of Haiti, established in 1804, was also elective.
Election in hereditary monarchies 
In a hereditary monarchy, election may occasionally be used to fill a vacant throne. For example, the royal family may become extinct; depending on how precisely the succession to the throne is defined in law, several candidates with equally, or almost equally, strong claims could emerge, with an election being held to choose between them. This differs from a formally elective monarchy in that it is an extraordinary measure, and with the new monarch the succession again becomes hereditary.
Alternatively, the monarch may be deposed, as in a revolution. While sometimes a monarch may be forced to abdicate in favour of his or her heir, on other occasions the royal family as a whole has been rejected, the throne going to an elected candidate. Examples include:
- John of England, chosen by a council of nobles and royal advisors at the death of his brother, Richard I because the heir by strict primogeniture, Arthur of Brittany was a child at that time.
- Henry IV of England, chosen by Parliament to replace Richard II. Richard was childless, and the Earl of March, the next in line to the throne, was a young child at the time, so Parliament bypassed him in favour of Henry, who had led the revolt against Richard.
- Michael of Russia, chosen by a Zemsky Sobor (national assembly) after the extinction of the Rurikid dynasty and the end of the Time of Troubles. The resulting Romanov dynasty was an old boyar house with the close ties to the former royalty, and Michael's father, Feodor Romanov, was at the time a Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia under the monastic name of Filaret, in effect holding a position of interrex. Later, Patriarch Filaret, a skilled politician in his own right, became effectively a co-ruler and sometimes a regent for his weak and not very healthy son.
- William III and Mary II of England, chosen by Parliament to replace James II. While Mary was James' daughter, and William and Mary were succeeded by Mary's younger sister Anne, the male descendants of James II were explicitly bypassed in the orders of succession of the late 17th and early 18th centuries.
- John I, then Master of Aviz, was elected by the Council of the Kingdom King of Portugal on 6 April 1385 in the aftermath of 1383–1385 Crisis, his half-brother Ferdinand I had died without a male heir in October 1383, strenuous efforts were made to secure the throne for Princess Beatrice, Ferdinand's only daughter and Queen consort of Castile and León or her uncles Infante John, Duke of Valencia de Campos and Infante Denis, Lord of Cifuentes, but the Council elected the younger and yet illegitimate son of Peter I.
- Louis-Philippe of France, elected King during the July Revolution.
Current uses 
Currently, the world's only true elective monarchies are:
- Malaysia, where the Yang di-Pertuan Agong (Supreme Head of State) is elected to a five-year term. Nine hereditary rulers from the Malay States form a Council of Rulers who will determine the next Agong via a secret ballot. The position has to date been de facto rotated amongst the State rulers, originally based on seniority.
- Additionally, the Malaysian state of Negeri Sembilan is itself an elective monarchy, where the Yang di-Pertuan Besar of Negeri Sembilan is selected by a council of ruling chiefs. The system was partially the basis for the federal monarchy.
- The Sultan of Perak is selected form amongst the most senior male princes descending from the 18th Sultan of Perak, Sultan Ahmadin. The Sultan, Raja Muda (Crown Prince), and Raja Di-Hilir (Deputy Crown Prince) are selected by the Dewan Undangan Negeri Perak. A son of the reigning Sultan cannot become Raja Muda if there is a more senior prince descendent from the previous Sultan; this is possible should the senior prince relinquish his right to become Raja Muda.
- The Kingdom of Cambodia, in which kings are chosen for a life term by The Royal Council of the Throne from candidates of royal blood.
- The Holy See, where the Pope is elected by the College of Cardinals.
Similar forms 
In addition, Andorra could be considered a semi-elective principality. Andorra's two heads of state are Spain's Bishop of La Seu d'Urgell and, since 1589, the king of France. As the French monarchy has long since been eliminated, the position of co-prince of Andorra falls to the democratically elected President of France. However, the Andorran authorities or people have no say in the election of the President of France, leaving Andorra in the unique position of having a monarch who is democratically elected by the citizenry of another state.
Swaziland also has a form of quasi-elective monarchy. In Swaziland, no king can appoint his successor. Instead, the royal family decides which of his wives shall be "Great wife" and "Indovukazi" (She-Elephant / Queen Mother). The son of this "Great Wife" will automatically become the next king. The eldest son is never appointed successor as he has other ceremonial roles.
The succession to the throne of Saudi Arabia, while hereditary, is not determined by a succession law but rather by consensus of the House of Saud as to who will be Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia; consensus may change depending on the Crown Prince's actions. In effect, this makes the Saudi monarchy elective within the House of Saud, as the king's eldest son has not become Crown Prince since the death of King Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud in 1953.
The President of the United Arab Emirates is a de facto hereditary position belonging to the Emir of Abu Dhabi. Thus, although elected by the Supreme Council, the president is essentially hereditary - the emir of Abu Dhabi holds the position.
In New Zealand, the Maori monarch, head of the Maori King Movement, is elected by the kaumatua of various New Zealand iwi (tribes). However, every Maori monarch to date had been succeeded by a son or daughter, making the position hereditary in effect. The traditional heads of the three regions of Wallis and Futuna (territories of the French Republic) are similarly elected.
Samoa was an elective monarchy from the first day of independence in 1962. From 1962 on, Samoa had two heads of state, Tupua Tamasese Mea'ole and Malietoa Tanumafili II. Tupua Tamasese Mea'ole died in 1963, and Malietoa Tanumafili II was the sole head of state (O le Ao o le Malo) of Samoa until his death in 2007. The Samoan Constitution stipulates the successor to the two original heads of state are to be elected for five-year terms by the Fono, the parliament of Samoa. The elected successor was one of Samoa's four paramount chiefs, Tufuga Efi. However, articles 18 and 45 of the Constitution provide, respectively, that any Member of Parliament may be elected head of state, and that any Samoan citizen may be elected to Parliament, and Samoa is now considered a parliamentary republic. However, the head of state is still referred to as "His Highness", and the Constitution does not outwardly declare that the form of government has been changed.
See also 
- Elections of Holy Roman Emperors
- Royal elections in Poland
- Papal election
- Papal conclave, 2013
- President for life
- "The Emperor: Qualifications". The Holy Roman Empire. Heraldica.
- Holland, James (2003). Fortress Malta: An Island Under Siege, 1940–1943. Miramax Books. ISBN 1-4013-5186-7.
- Hamilton, Alexander (1962). The Papers of Alexander Hamilton, Volume 9. New York: Columbia University Press. ISBN 0-231-08903-1.
- Constitution of the Independent State of Samoa
- Official website of the head of state of Samoa
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- "The Noble Republic, 1572-1795". Poland - The Historical Setting. Polish Academic Information Center, University at Buffalo. Retrieved 2008-01-02.
- Jędruch, Jacek (1998). Constitutions, Elections and Legislatures of Poland, 1493-1993. EJJ Books. ISBN 0-7818-0637-2. Retrieved 2008-01-02.
- "Norway's elective monarchy". The New York Times. November 16, 1905. Retrieved 2008-01-03.