2020 assumption of emergency powers by Jonathan I

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Between 25 May and 4 June 2020, emergency powers were temporarily assumed by Emperor Jonathan I of the Empire of Austenasia in response to a political crisis caused by deepening divisions in the House of Representatives. These powers granted the Monarch unprecedented and near-absolute control over the executive and legislative functions of government, and were used to impose order and to implement parliamentary reform. The political crisis at the heart of this incident came to an end on 1 June 2020 with the resignation of Prince Dionisiy I from the office of Prime Minister, who was succeeded by the incumbent Lord John Gordon.

Legal provisions

In the case of an absolute emergency when a change of any sort to the Constitution is unable to be made in this way [i.e., organising and holding a referendum and a supermajority of Parliament consenting to implementing the result], the Monarch may unilaterally make such changes as are necessary to the Constitution in a time of great crisis and existential threat to the state, with such changes to be reverted as soon as normal constitutional government is able to be resumed.

— Article II, Section E of the Austenasian Constitution of 2011

The Austenasian Constitution of 2011 allows for the Monarchy to temporarily override the Constitution "in a time of great crisis and existential threat to the state" should "an absolute emergency" prevent the Constitution from being amended in the usual way. This provision was introduced on 1 September 2015 by the First Amendment to the Constitution. The precise parameters of what constitutes an "existential threat" or "an absolute emergency" have not been defined in law.

Background

On 21 March 2019, Dionisiy Tezdzhan-Smahin (who two months later would become Prince of Montescano) joined Austenasia upon the annexation of Theodosiopolis, his then-residence. Over the following year, several other properties owned by Prince Dionisiy were also claimed for Austenasia, and annexed as the Harlemum March, the Territories of Laranda and Seleucia ad Cilicia, and the Crown Dependency of Trebizond. During this time, two other towns - Gebirgspark, and Chalcedon - also joined the Empire, claimed and administered by friends of Prince Dionisiy. This meant that by February 2020, Prince Dionisiy had built up a strong base of support, with control and influence over much of Austenasia, with his supporters organised into the Fatherland Party.

In the February 2020 general election, Prince Dionisiy ran on behalf of the Fatherland Party against Lord John Gordon, then of the Whig Party, and later an Independent. The Prince won the election on a platform of constitutional reform and assumed office as Prime Minister of Austenasia.

Timeline

Prelude

The infamous propaganda poster published online by the Fatherland Party.
  • 15 May - After discussions with Prince Dionisiy and Fatherland Party members, Emperor Jonathan I passed an Imperial Edict proposing various amendments to the Constitution and ordering a referendum to take place on 30 June in order for the population to vote on the amendments. The amendments would, if passed, replace the Prime Minister with the Consuls as a head of government elected by the House of Representatives, and give Parliament a greater say over the composition of the Senate.
  • 22 May - Prince Dionisiy posted a propaganda poster to Austenasia's official Facebook page encouraging voters to support the amendments in the upcoming referendum as a way to "end the political barbarism". The poster elicited negative reactions from Austenasian officials - Lord Admiral Joseph Kennedy, Lord Charles Ross, Lord Austin Jaax - and two foreign heads of state, namely Emperor Adam I of Adammia and Sôgmô Sörgel of Sandus. Many objections accused the proposed amendments of being undemocratic, focusing on the move away from a directly democratic election of the head of government to one held by the legislature, whereas Sôgmô Sörgel specifically questioned the cultural motives behind the change.
  • 23 May - Jonathan I posted a statement on the official Facebook group aiming to clarify the aims of the amendments, and asking "external observers to respect the fact that this is an internal decision to be made by the Austenasian people, and to refrain from unnecessarily provocative discourse." Adam I of Adammia asked in the official Austenasian Discord server for clarification as to whether Prince Dionisiy considered Adammia's prime ministerial system "barbaric", and the Prince directed the question to Jonathan I as Chief Ambassador, who stressed that the poster was tongue-in-cheek and intended for internal viewing, making no claims regarding foreign governments. The Peoples Party criticised Prince Dionisiy for insulting one of Austenasia's closest international friends, and a heated argument in Parliament led to a motion of no confidence against the Prime Minister - described by Lord John Gordon as "symbolic" due to the certainty it would fail - which failed with two votes in support and six against. The arguing in Parliament was calmed only after the intervention of Jonathan I.

25 May: Assumption of emergency powers

On 25 May, Prince Dionisiy proposed a bill which would have had almost all Austenasian claims administered by members of the Fatherland Party secede from Austenasia, similarly to the secession of New Virginia. Speaking on behalf of the Fatherland Party, the Prince claimed that their "ideas... [were] not welcome" in Austenasia due to the controversy surrounding the proposed constitutional amendments, despite their electoral success. The bill would have had over half of Austenasia secede, and passed the House, awaiting only Imperial Consent to become law.

Rather than granting - or even refusing - Imperial Consent, the Emperor persuaded Prince Dionisiy to withdraw the bill, and criticized the House of Representatives for having allowed their divisions and arguments to have driven the Empire to such a position. He argued that a majority of Austenasia considering secession should be considered an existential threat to the state, and announced his intention to assume emergency powers "to stop Austenasia from tearing itself apart."

At 8:56 p.m. (BST) therefore, Emperor Jonathan I assumed the following emergency powers and superseded the Constitution where necessary "in order to enable their enactment and exercise:"

1) The House of Representatives shall not meet or convene without a prior summons from the Monarch.
2) All titles, offices and positions shall be held at and by the sole will and permission of the Monarch.
3) The position of Proconsul is hereby created, to be held by two individuals each of whom will hold the powers and authority of the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister shall not be divested of his powers and authority, but the three shall work together under the direction of the Monarch to aid in the re-establishing of civil order and constitutional government. Lord Edward Gunderson, Count of New Grémmia and HG Bradley, Duke of Dullahan shall serve as the first two Proconsuls.

The referendum at the heart of the parliamentary divisions was brought forward to 12 June, and the Emperor stated that his emergency powers would last until 13 June, when he would decide to either relinquish or extend them depending on the circumstances.

Prince Dionisiy and Leader of the Opposition Lord Austin Jaax immediately voiced their support for the Emperor's decision to assume emergency powers, as did Duke Bradley (Princeps Senatus) and a majority of the Senate. The House of Representatives collectively signaled a desire for the recent disagreements to be put aside and for unity to be re-established.

Subsequent events

  • 26 May - Jonathan I convened Parliament and proposed the Political Parties Act 2020, which was passed into law. The Act abolished the official recognition of political parties and their role in parliamentary proceedings, which had only existed since April 2018 and was seen by many as having greatly contributed towards the recent disunity.
  • 27-28 May - The Emperor, Prime Minister and Proconsuls collectively decided that Austenasia required a new start, and that the referendum scheduled for 12 June would not vote simply on some amendments, but on a brand new Constitution designed to implement wide-reaching changes that all four could agree on as being improvements to the current system of government. Work began on drafts for this new Constitution.
  • 29 May - Lord Edward Gunderson, unhappy with what he considered insufficiently radical changes in the new Constitution being drafted, urged the Emperor and Prime Minister to commit a self-coup and simply seize power. Early in the day, Gunderson posted the unilateral secession of Dragovina in the Austenasian Parliament chamber, and forfeited his positions and titles. Jonathan later convened Parliament, which passed the Dragovina Act 2020, dissolving Lord Gunderson's town of Dragovina formally and removing him from the country. Lord John Gordon was appointed Lord Gunderson's successor as Deputy Prime Minister and Duke Bradley his successor as Home Secretary, while the Proconsul system was abolished.
  • 30 May - Jonathan I and Prince Dionisiy continued to work on a new Constitution, now joined in an advisory capacity by Lord John Gordon and former Prime Minister Lord Admiral Joseph Kennedy. The system to be set out in the new Constitution was approved in principle by all four people.
  • 31 May - Details in the draft for the new Constitution continued to be worked out, with a view to having it voted on in June. However, following the departure of Dragovina and Lord Gunderson, Lord Krištof Fondrk of Gebirgspark signaled his desire to leave Austenasia as well.
  • 1 June - Personally conflicted by the intentions of Lord Fondrk and the departure of Lord Gunderson, Prince Dionisiy announced his resignation as Prime Minister and requested the dissolution of most of the land claims administered by himself and Fondrk, simultaneously claiming the large territory of Chersoneses for the Empire as a sign of goodwill. This was put into effect by the Empire of Austenasia Act 2020, passed by Parliament later that day after the Emperor convened it for that purpose. Using his emergency powers, Jonathan I appointed Lord John Gordon directly to the office of Prime Minister, and Lord William Wilson of Nahona directly to the offices of Deputy Prime Minister and of Speaker. In a public statement, the Emperor affirmed his confidence in Lord Gordon's new administration and announced his intention to relinquish his emergency powers on 4 June.
  • 4 June - Emperor Jonathan I relinquished the emergency powers assumed on 25 May, nine days earlier than a review of said powers was planned.

Aftermath

By the time Jonathan I had relinquished his emergency powers, the Empire of Austenasia had gone through a dramatic and wide-reaching number of changes. The relatively new Prime Minister, Prince Dionisiy, had been replaced with Lord John Gordon; several land claims had left Austenasia, only to be replaced with one larger than them all combined in the form of Chersoneses; and the partisan parliamentary system established by Lord Admiral Kennedy had been abolished.

Although Lord Gordon would have automatically become Acting Prime Minister upon Prince Dionisiy's resignation, he was appointed directly to the position of Prime Minister proper under the provisions of the emergency powers assumed by the Emperor. Despite his high popularity (the 41% of the vote he had received in February's general election would have been a majority had the election been held without the land claims which left alongside Dionisiy), the House of Representatives held a symbolic vote of confidence in Lord Gordon's premiership on 22 June, with no votes cast against him. A vote of confidence was also successfully held in Lord Wilson's position as Speaker of the House.