- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 14, 2004

VADUZ, Liechtenstein — Prince Hans-Adam II has power other European leaders can only dream of, and he’s handing over much of it to his son today at a garden party for his subjects — all 33,000 of them.

Liechtenstein, about the size of Washington, D.C., is one of the world’s smallest countries.

Only 17 months ago, the prince won the power to dismiss governments, veto laws and cast the deciding vote in appointing judges. Soon after, he announced he would hand over power to his 36-year-old son, Crown Prince Alois, in a year. Now he is making good on his word.

Not that he’s about to fade into retirement in his castle overlooking the capital, Vaduz. He says he will remain head of state; his son will only be his “representative,” and the two will talk regularly.

“The prince,” he said, referring to himself, “can at any time withdraw the powers.”

Speaking to the Zurich daily Neue Zuercher Zeitung, he said the process was the same as when his father, Franz-Josef II, handed him the reins in 1984 — the year that women were first allowed to vote in national elections.

The electorate has some checks on royal prerogative — it can force a referendum on any issue by gathering at least 1,500 signatures. But the Council of Europe, the Continent’s top human rights watchdog, has called last year’s constitutional changes “a serious step backward” and says it is monitoring Liechtenstein’s commitment to democracy because the prince has acquired such extensive powers.

“Hans-Adam has been a provocateur,” says Mario Frick, a former prime minister who opposed the prince’s constitutional changes. “He liked to be in the middle of a quarrel. Many people hope Prince Alois … will want to calm things down.”

The younger prince is no dictator; he had a lengthy dialogue with the government to thrash out a compromise on constitutional reform, which was eventually presented to voters for approval in March last year.

But Prince Hans-Adam, who presides over a personal fortune estimated at up to $5.6 billion, went as far as to threaten to leave Liechtenstein if voters didn’t approve the changes in a referendum. A resounding 64.3 percent said yes.

Prince Alois may be less confrontational than his father. He is said to be a shy, introverted man. But he insists he’ll do things his own way.

“A journalist recently said to me that I am a clone of my father. Others say that I am more like my grandfather. I am neither one nor the other,” he told Vaterland, a Liechtenstein daily.

Independent since 1806, 60-square-mile Liechtenstein is a relic of the Holy Roman Empire, sandwiched between Austria and Switzerland.

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