Liechtenstein Referendum

ZURICH, Switzerland (DPA) - No one elected Hereditary Prince Alois of Liechtenstein, but he always has the final word in his tiny mountainous realm, to the chagrin of some of his subjects.

Discontent has grown to such an extent that a citizen's group has initiated a referendum to cut the prince's powers. The outcome could put the entire monarchy into question.

In the world's 6th smallest country, nestled between Austria and Switzerland, the 43-year-old prince has the right to veto laws and amendments.

If Alois' critics have their say, this privilege would be removed.

"Democracy in Liechtenstein would be strengthened and expanded," said a spokesman of the group headed by a computer expert, a teacher, a pensioner, and the country's chief archivist.

This month, they submitted their referendum for a constitutional amendment to the government and they expect the ballot to take place in six months' time.

The prince reacted by hinting at the possible repercussions that this step might have for the country, in which the ruling family controls the LGT financial group that manages assets worth 88 billion Swiss francs (96 billion dollars) - around half the total assets managed by Liechtenstein's banks.

He said that such constitutional change could only come about through a referendum on the future of the monarchy itself. "All or nothing," the daily newspaper Liechtensteiner Volksblatt wrote in summing up this approach.

"The princely house has registered with surprise that the initiative 'Yes - Make Your Vote Count' has launched a popular vote on the prince's enforcing powers, without having even sought contact with the princely house first," the ruler said through his secretariat.

In 2003, Alois' father Prince Hans-Adam II was granted additional powers in a popular vote after threatening to leave the country.

Alois, who rules on behalf of his father, set the latest developments in motion last year when the country's 19,000 eligible voters were called on to decide whether to legalize abortion.

However, Prince Alois did not wait for the ballot and announced beforehand that he would veto a law allowing abortions.

After the bill was rejected by 52 per cent of voters, two legislators tried to push it through parliament, but the prince again announced that he would oppose it.

Ironically, Alois could also kill the new initiative by using the very same constitutional powers that it aims to abolish.

The group sponsoring the referendum insists that it supports the monarchy. However, the movement's spokesman - who wishes to remain anonymous - refused to speculate how the mood would change if Alois put in yet another veto.

"The initiators firmly believe that the prince will not stand in the way of the people's will," he said.

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