The powers of the king were limited and defined by law or as prescribed by conventions. He was retained in his position as head of the State, but in all matters of administration he was compelled to seek the advice and consent of the representatives of the people. The representatives guided him in choosing and dismissing his ministers, in raising his revenues, and in almost every act of his government.
This was the advent of constitutional government. The king remained only a symbol of authority, a legacy of the past. He personified the sovereignty of the State and in terms of law all authority belonged to him. But actual sovereignty rested somewhere else and the monarch simply exercised personal influence in the exercise of that authority. Influence is not authority and can be least sovereignty.
By titular sovereignty we mean sovereignty by the title only. It is another way of saying sovereignty in name or nominal sovereignty. It refers to the sovereign powers of the king or monarch who has ceased to exercise any real authority.
In theory, he may still possess all the sovereign powers which were once enjoyed by him, but in actual practice there is some other man or body of men who act on behalf of the sovereign and exercise supreme authority. The best example of titular sovereignty is the British King who is even today “our sovereign lord the king.”
Legally, the powers of the king are supreme. He is the source of all authority, the acts of the government are his acts, and the officers of the State—civil and military—are his servants appointed and dismissed at his pleasure. He is also the fountain of justice and law. But in real practice all this is not true.
The sovereignty of the king is now a legacy of the past. There is no action of government which is the result of his initiative. The actual power and direction of government rests with the king’s duly constituted ministers.
Lowell has beautifully summed up the whole position. He says, “According to the early theory of the constitution the ministers were the counsellors of the king. It was for them to advice and for him to decide. Now the parts are almost reversed. The king is consulted, but the ministers decide.” The king has now ceased to exercise any real authority; it is titular.
An absolute monarch is all powerful. He is a real sovereign, the source of all commands and the final authority in all business of the State. But such a sovereign is difficult to find today. Even King Zahir Shah of Afghanistan could not claim to be a real sovereign.
At the same time, he was neither titular. He had discretion and exercised some form of personal authority. The position of the Shah of Iran was more or less identical to that of the King of Afghanistan.
Islamic Law determines the extent of authority of the Kings in the Middle East countries and they dare not violate the commands of the Quran and the Shariat, though they seen to be exercising unlimited authority.
Where rudiments of democratic elements have entered the body-politic of a country, they are defended to be in conformity to and in accordance with the prescription of Islam.