Can the king vote, and does he have a role in elections?


LONDON — Thursday’s general election is the nation’s first since King Charles III took the throne. But can the reigning monarch — and senior members of the royal family — vote in the election?

They can, but they don’t.

Welcome to Britain’s constitutional monarchy, where kings reign, but they do not rule.

The monarch and royal family members “choose to abstain” from voting, royal commentator Richard Fitzwilliams said. “Anything else would violate the need under our unwritten constitution for the monarchy to be above party politics.”

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After wielding absolute power across Britain for centuries, the monarchy has evolved into an institution that, on one hand, is head of the military, the church, the judiciary and the civil service and has the power to dissolve Parliament and reject laws and, on the other, wields none of these.

Instead, it is a symbolic institution that must appear above the cut and thrust of party politics without seeming to favor any side. So the royals don’t vote.

Robert Hazell, professor of government and the constitution at University College London, echoed Fitzwilliams’s remarks, noting that “by convention,” senior royals, like the monarch, “do not vote, to preserve the political neutrality of the royal family.”

The monarch is expected to be “politically neutral on all matters,” though there is a role to play in elections, and in general, the king is able to “advise and warn” ministers when necessary, according to the official royal website, which doesn’t elaborate on what that would entail.

For a general election to take place, Britain’s prime minister must request that the monarch dissolve Parliament — which Rishi Sunak did in May. Once the election result is in, the king will ask the prime minister to form a government.

“The King effectively has no discretion: He must appoint as PM that person who is most likely to be able to command the confidence of the House of Commons,” Hazell said. “If Labour win the election, as currently predicted, Sunak would tender his resignation, and the king would invite [Keir] Starmer to form a new government.”

The king holds a weekly meeting with the prime minister to talk about government matters, and the discussion “is entirely private,” the royal website notes — and long the subject of speculation by historians.

Jeff King, a law professor at University College London, said Thursday that “the rules relating to the power of members of the royal family to vote are regulated by constitutional convention and not by statute law.”

Convention, he explained, is different from tradition.

“Conventions are ‘binding’ in an important sense, although they are political and not legal in character,” he said, adding that “most of the rules structuring how government works are conventional in character and assembled in the Cabinet Manual,” which serves as a guide to laws, conventions and rules on the operation of government.

“Some conventions have come under strain in recent years, but the convention to the monarch not voting is a clear rule,” King said.

“The monarch has a constitutional duty not to be drawn into party political matters,” King said, citing the manual. “This is crucial for when the monarch exercises the power to appoint a prime minister in the situation where no party has an overall majority of the House of Commons.”

Though traditionally not discussed by members of the royal family, Prince Harry brought up his inability to vote in 2020 when he and his wife, Meghan, made a TV appearance urging Americans to participate in their elections.

“Many of you may not know that I haven’t been able to vote in the U.K. my entire life,” he said.



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