Meritocracy & the Weighted Vote
An important factor in the spread of the Empire was the adoption of government by a meritocracy, with promotion based primarily on intelligence, education and achievement, not accidents of birth. Ironically, this was done almost accidentally; there was no easy way to merge the diverse governments of the Empire using any of the existing systems, and America in particular stood firmly against inherited titles and position. Basing rank on education and attainment seemed a good way to pay lip-service to these ideals, while in fact giving the entrenched aristocracy a significant advantage.
When this system was introduced it was assumed that those in power would inevitably be a product of the most expensive and prestigious education, which was of course most readily available to the wealthy and powerful. But the traditional schools and colleges emphasised dead languages and other subjects which had little or no relevance to the rapid advances in technology of the time. The next generation of rulers came from backgrounds such as the grammar schools of Britain and the gymnasia of Germany, from colleges that emphasised science such as Imperial College in London and America’s MIT; most of the Empire’s rulers since the beginning of the 21st century have had scientific or engineering qualifications. Of course there are still barriers to advancement; the poor can rarely afford the years of education (and accompanying expenses) needed to rise in the hierarchy of government, and there are a dozen applicants for every worthwhile scholarship. Theoretically, anyone can rise to the top; in practice, the advantages are still mostly with the rich. Wealth and success, as always, go hand in hand.
Most real political power lies with the civil service and Parliament; the Emperor is often considered a figurehead, but has an important role as arbiter of disputes between regions, government departments, etc. The electoral system is extremely complicated, but votes are weighted to reflect education, position, and other factors, so that the vote of (for example) the head of a government department, an admiral, or the senior consultant of a hospital has more effect than that of a junior civil servant, newly-qualified professional, or low-ranking officer in the armed services. Most members of the working classes do not meet the minimum educational qualifications to vote. Women have the vote if they meet these standards, but very few are in a position for their votes to have more than the minimal weighting.
The systems of examination and promotion used by the Empire have been “tweaked” repeatedly since their adoption. The essentials are Civil and Military Service entrance examinations, written and oral tests to qualify for routine promotion, along with promotion as a reward for meritorious conduct, success, etc. The Emperor (or theoretically Empress, though there has never in fact been one) rules by acclamation, or in some instances by subduing all opposition, and the post is not hereditary. The Emperor is expected to resign if age or ill-health makes him unfit to rule, and can be deposed by the vote of at least 70% of the members of Parliament. The constitution specifically forbids the Emperor from appointing his successor, and from appointing his immediate family to any post more exalted than senior civil servant, ambassador, etc., and then only if the appointee meets the service requirements for education, experience, etc. There have been occasional abuses, but overall the system works reasonably well, and most Emperors have been models of efficient government.
While this is a reasonably stable system, it is sometimes criticised as discriminating against the working classes and women and encouraging cronyism. It cannot be denied that there are problems, no system is perfect, but proponents point out that without it alternatives such as universal suffrage might be tried, potentially leading to socialism and other unacceptable forms of government.
Yes, this is supposed to be a dystopia; why did you ask?