When Barbados held a glittering ceremony to dump then Queen Elizabeth as its head of state and become a republic back in late 2021, governments and nationalists in several other CARICOM territories sprang into action, saying they too were very interested in becoming republics.
Televised worldwide, people around the globe watched as the island, known also as Little England or Bimshire, formally completed the transition and swore in former judge Sandra Mason as its first ceremonial president, replacing Elizabeth. Her son, Prince Charles, later to become King of England when his mom died a year ago, attended the Barbados ceremony and basically said the British understood why former colonies wanted to make such a transition.
Of those which said they also want to become republics, Jamaica has made the most strident steps in this regard as authorities hurriedly established a constitutional reform commission, mandated with changing entrenched tenants in the constitution that would have normally prevented any government from making the change without a referendum and a two thirds majority vote in the house.
The commission is at an advanced stage of a national consultation process and is preparing to hand in its recommendations to authorities but the main opposition People’s National Party (PNP) has made it clear that it would not support any switch to a republic unless the governing Jamaica Labor Party (JLP) agrees to also dump the British Privy Council as the country’s highest or apex court. The PNP wants Jamaicans to have access to the Trinidad-based Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) instead of the British system as it is way more accessible as attorneys can travel freely to Trinidad without visas to attend hearings. Keeping the British system would merely be a half measure to full and complete republicanism.
As it is, the PNP is talking with supreme confidence that it would block Jamaica’s switch to a republic because it is confident that it will win the 2025 general elections, so confident that it held its main party convention at the weekend where all the fat talk about not supporting the government emerged. Party Leader Mark Golding says the outfit’s position is an entrenched one, not subject to change in any shape or form. The JLP would need PNP parliamentary support to make the switch.
“We need to decolonise Jamaica once and for all. We inthe PNP have no interest in moving to a republic while retaining the King’s Privy Council in London as Jamaica’s final court. That does not make sense. Jamaicans need a final court where they don’t need a visa to go there, and where the costs are not way out of their reach. Time come for a Jamaican head of state and the Caribbean Court of Justice as our final court. We will support both moving forward together. We have no interest in one without the other,” he told thousands at the convention. “I stand firm in leading our party in our mission of social and economic transformation to a better Jamaica for all our people. We need to break every chain that is holding the country back.”
There are 15 nations in the Caribbean Community bloc with 12 being former colonies. Suriname and Haiti are the exceptions. Montserrat, the third one, is still a dependency. Of this group, only Guyana, Trinidad, Dominica and latterly Barbados are republics. Others like Antigua, Belize, St. Vincent and The Bahamas have made noises about getting their own black or brown head of state but none has done much to effect any change in their constitutional status.
As debate rages on in Jamaica, the reform commission says it is planning to recommend a hybrid presidency with the officer holder possessing both executive and ceremonial functions. Legal Affairs Minister Marlene Malahoo Forte told a recent town hall meeting that reformers are leaning in this direction as the laws will likely be tweaked to make the presidency suited specifically for Jamaica and its local needs.
“At this stage we’re leaning towards a hybrid presidency. Not a ceremonial president, a president that will exercise a set of powers, some ceremonial, some executive. We are tailor-making something for the Jamaican people. When we say goodbye to the King and we are establishing the republic, a number of questions will have to be answered. What kind of president? How long will the president serve for? What should qualify you to become president?”
The commission has been making the rounds in various parishes and communities, selling the idea of constitutional reform and republicanism to ordinary Jamaicans. To make the switch, local laws will have to be amended and a referendum planned for next year will have to approve the changeover. Guyana with its executive presidency is the only one among the former British colonies in the 15-nation Caricom whose head of state has such executive powers. Haiti and Suriname, the last two nations to join the bloc also have executive presidents.
She even said that the idea of giving the office holder a seven-year run is being seriously discussed as it would insulate them and ease the stress of the head of state being reelected or reappointed during the same five-year cycle of a government and prime minister. “We’re hearing the views of Jamaicans.”