Liechtenstein voters make prince Europe's most powerful ruler

By Peter Popham

Is Prince Hans-Adam, the ruler of Liechtenstein, a blast from the feudal past, bent on reducing his 32,000 subjects to serfs? Or an intensely modern figure who has redefined prince to mean chief executive, and who is refashioning his gem-like patrimony into Liechtenstein Plc? Or is he, despite his evident flair for business, slightly bonkers?

Is Prince Hans-Adam, the ruler of Liechtenstein, a blast from the feudal past, bent on reducing his 32,000 subjects to serfs? Or an intensely modern figure who has redefined prince to mean chief executive, and who is refashioning his gem-like patrimony into Liechtenstein Plc? Or is he, despite his evident flair for business, slightly bonkers?

The Prince, 58, won a referendum granting him startling new powers with more than 64 per cent in favour yesterday. Now he alone will have the right to appoint judges, dissolve the government, kill legislation he dislikes by not acting on it, and ignore the constitutional court. It makes him the closest thing modern Europe has to an absolute monarch.

The result came at the end of an ugly campaign in which opponents found mutilated animals – a rotting pig's snout and tail, a disembowelled cat – dumped on their doorsteps.

If the referendum went against him, the Prince had said, he would leave: the family seat in Vienna is more appealing than their draughty 13th-century castle in Vaduz, the capital, where they have lived for only 70 of their 300 years in power. And then what would befall the principality? "I'll sell it to Bill Gates," he once said.

Liechtenstein is now in new constitutional waters. A report to the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly warned that the state would risk being ejected from the Council.

Prince Hans-Adam is unlikely to give a hoot. Once this huddle of villages squashed between Austria and Switzerland was poor and rustic; now it is a humming dynamo of banks, with full employment and general prosperity.

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