Insight: Liechtenstein prince faces vote over veto power

Mon Jun 11, 2012 6:45am EDT
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By Emma Thomasson

VADUZ (Reuters) - It isn't easy being a campaigner for more democracy in the tiny principality of Liechtenstein. Everybody knows everybody in this arch-conservative state and the subjects of the last monarchy in Europe with any real power don't like rocking the boat.

Activists who want to end the monarchy's right to veto popular referendums say they have received threatening letters and seen far-right vandals deface campaign posters with Nazi slogans like "Heil Fatherland" and "Democrats are the death of the people".

Given the charged atmosphere in this state of just 36,000, few dare to speak out against billionaire Prince Hans-Adam von und zu Liechtenstein, whose family has ruled the 160-sq-km (62-sq-mile) principality since 1699 and is credited with turning a rural backwater into a wealthy banking centre.

But democracy campaigners still managed to gather just enough signatures to call a referendum on the prince's veto right - set for July 1 - by canvassing support in private and assuring voters that their names would be kept secret.

"People are worried about being seen as against the prince," Sigvard Wohlwend, a communications consultant who is a spokesman for the campaign, told Reuters in a cafe in the pedestrianised main street of the sleepy capital Vaduz.

Wohlwend said most people don't want to reopen deep divisions over the monarchy that were triggered by a constitutional crisis in 2003.

"Today I argue with a politician and tomorrow I play football with him and I'm probably also related to him somehow. That's village life," said Wohlwend, who greeted several passersby during the course of the interview.

An attempt to canvas support at his son's soccer match did not go down well, he said.   Continued...

Crown Prince Alois von und zu Liechtenstein listens during a news conference in Vaduz in this March 12, 2009 file photo. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann/Files