In January, Jamaica’s new prime minister announced she intends to make her country a republic, some fifty years since formal independence from Britain. Other Commonwealth nations may soon follow suit, according to Wajahat Nassar, 24, from Pakistan.
The question of whether to continue with a member of the British royal family as head of state has polarised many Commonwealth nations.
Commonwealth republicanism first became prominent with the independence of India on 26 January 1950 – followed by Pakistan on 23 March 1956. But this wave did not stop at the Indian Ocean.
It soon reached Ghana in 1960, followed by South Africa in 1961, Tanganyika (now Tanzania) in 1962, Uganda and Nigeria in 1963, Malawi in 1966, and Gambia and Guyana in 1970. It then spread to Sierra Leone in 1971, Sri Lanka in 1972, Malta in 1974, Trinidad and Tobago in 1976, Fiji in 1987, and Mauritius in 1992.
The transition to independent status in those days was a result of political will and the people’s choice to nationalise their government. But recent events show there is, today, a second wind of anti-royalist sentiment.
A referendum was held in Tuvalu in 2008, giving voters the option of abolishing the royal link. Another was held in 2009 in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. Although both referenda failed, the movement has not been silenced.
Jamaica’s new prime minister, Portia Simpson-Miller, signalled in January this year her determination to guide the country to becoming a republic, as a way of marking 50 years since independence in August 2012.
Australia, Barbados, Canada and New Zealand are also seeking out their own identity and considering whether they really need the royal assent. With more and more countries embracing the republican dream, one can say that the Commonwealth is moving towards a more nation-orientated system of governance.
In turn, London has not objected to countries ending Queen Elizabeth II’s role as head of state. Indeed some in Britain want to make their own country a republic, with the devolved Scottish government more than willing to step out of the union.
In all this, we can see that the Commonwealth has matured over the decades, though there are likely to be many more milestones to come its way.
The youth of those countries now considering becoming a republic would see something new: their own president. But it’s difficult to understand exactly how they would feel as the midnight hour strikes and they break away formally from the British monarchy.
And yet the people’s right to self-determination must be respected. Whatever the reasons for republicanism, it must be seen as a positive step towards unifying the Commonwealth.
We, as the young of the Commonwealth, can just hope that all ends well.
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