I have read that rotation among nine hereditary rulers of provinces determines who is King of Malaysia during a given 5-year term. This seems to stand out from related practices e.g. over the history of the Holy Roman Empire or between emirs in todays United Arab Emirates that tend(ed) to favor a single dynastic family while it lasted.

So my question is this: do we find other examples (in history or contemporary politics) where the most senior governmental role rotated between hereditary rulers of territories, families, or similar?


The key phrase I had been looking for to define the type of monarchy you mean is an Elective Monarchy. The description for this type of monarchy is:

An elective monarchy is a monarchy ruled by an elected monarch, in contrast to a hereditary monarchy in which the office is automatically passed down as a family inheritance. The manner of election, the nature of candidate qualifications, and the electors vary from case to case. Historically it is not uncommon for elective monarchies to transform into hereditary ones over time, or for hereditary ones to acquire at least occasional elective aspects.

In this Wikipedia Article you will find a lot of examples of historic monarchies. A nice detail to this is this piece of text:

Many, if not most, kingdoms were officially elective historically, though the candidates were typically only from the family of the deceased monarch. Eventually, however, most elected monarchies introduced hereditary succession, guaranteeing that the title and office stayed within the royal family and specifying, more or less precisely, the order of succession.

Currently, the world's only true elective monarchies are:

  • Malaysia
  • Cambodia
  • The Vatican

So, even though there is some discussion about the inclusion of the Papacy, it does seem to belong in the answer of this question.

  • I even thought of adding Russia in the example as well, since the whole Putin-Medvedev rule has been going on since the year 2000. In which "free" elections, free press and democracy are under a lot of pressure. – Hendrik Beenker Feb 5 '13 at 23:06
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    The papacy does not rotate, however. The pope is elected, and once elected remains pope for life, with no term or age limit, and subject to a strong tradition against abdication/resignation. Being pope is more analogous to the Holy Roman Emperor than King of Malaysia in that respect. – choster Feb 5 '13 at 23:23
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    The term "rotate" can be interpreted as having a limited term, like currently in Malaysia or United Arab Emirates Which is discussed in this Skeptics question as well. But, it can also be interpreted as having a monarchy/dictatorship that rotates the "crown" between a select family/group. I consider the papacy to be that kind of exclusive rotation. – Hendrik Beenker Feb 6 '13 at 8:51
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    The examples you are looking for beyond Malaysia and UAE are indeed pretty impossible to find. The Shogun system was one of rotation, but there was always the Emperor above it. I thinks like you said it will be almost impossible to find any family that would voluntarily rotate the crown, unless there was some force above them. However, I have found one in fiction: The Game Of Thrones, with the rotating power between the Seven Kingdoms ;-) – Hendrik Beenker Feb 6 '13 at 12:14
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    @Hendrink I still dispute the papacy's inclusion, as the College of Cardinals is not a hereditary group, and the papacy does not cycle among generations, ecclesiastical territories, religious institutes and orders, or any other way the cardinals could be divided. To say it "rotates" because the office is not open to the general public is to say every sovereign has "rotated" into his or her position. – choster Feb 6 '13 at 15:11

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