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Prince secures landslide victory in referendum to check royal powers


Citizens of the Alpine tax haven Liechtenstein gave their reigning prince a resounding vote of confidence yesterday in a referendum which flatly rejected attempts to curb royal power in one of Europe's most undemocratic countries.

Proposals to strip Liechtenstein's Prince Hans-Adam II, 67, of his power of parliamentary veto were opposed by 65 per cent of the country's 36,000 subjects in a referendum organised by pro-democracy campaigners.

Only 15 per cent voted in favour of the proposal. Sigvard Wohlwend, one of the organisers of the referendum, said he was disappointed by the outcome. He described the prince and his son, Crown Prince Alois, 43, who has been acting in his father's stead since 2004, as "the most powerful monarchs in Europe.".

He said the prince of Liechtenstein held the absolute right to veto any decision taken by the parliament and people. "No judges can be appointed without the approval of the prince," he added.

The referendum was prompted by a national vote held last September on whether to decriminalise abortion in the mainly Catholic country. Days before the poll, Prince Alois, a Catholic himself, declared said he would use his power of veto to oppose any changes to the country's abortion ban, whatever voters decided.

However, as the inhabitants of the world's second richest nation after Monaco, citizens of Liechtenstein are suspicious of change.

Sandwiched between Switzerland and Austria, the country has an average per-capita income of £85,000 and is home to hundreds of millionaires. The royal family is said to be worth £3bn and owns and runs Liechtenstein's largest bank, LGT.

Markus Burgler, a Liechtenstein citizen who launched an online campaign to back the prince said he is was a "guardian who ensures stability."

In the run-up to yesterday's referendum, Prince Alois warned that he may withdraw from his official duties if the vote went against him, prompting rumours that he may go into exile, taking the family fortune with him.

In the end, his electorate did not even give him the chance to veto their decision.