Could the republican movement in New Zealand be a sign of growing discontent with the British monarchy and maturity as a nation, or is it just a passing phase? Fale Andrew Lesa, a 21-year-old Commonwealth Correspondent from Auckland, New Zealand, reports.
There are exactly fifty-four Commonwealth states today, and within this figure there are sixteen Commonwealth realms with Queen Elizabeth II as the official head of state.
New Zealand, along with our closest geographical neighbour, Australia, is one of these sixteen British dominions. Our British origins are quite easy to recognise, and various New Zealand institutions, in all shapes and sizes, can be attributed to British influence.
New Zealand has had an umbilical cord with Britain since the signing of our foundation treaty in 1840. Our history before British arrival is seldom discussed in modern literature or in academic environments. We were once considered ‘the little Britain of the South Seas’ in reference to the military campaigns fought in honour of our unique partnership.
According to the most recent national census figures, the vast majority of New Zealanders can identify with British heritage (more or less). Britain also provides one of our largest migrant pools today, and has for quite some time.
In present day New Zealand politics, the dialogue around our existing status as a Constitutional Monarchy continues, perhaps the result of Australian and Canadian public dialogue around the same issue. In recent years the New Zealand Republican Movement has succeeded in earning itself some valuable publicity.
Proponents argue that the monarchy is no longer relevant, and that its purpose is merely a symbolic gesture to the politics of an era preceding the present. Others argue in favour of our complete control over every aspect of governance, and cite our maturity as a nation, and our political independence as important character virtues.
It is believed by some that our identity as a nation is overshadowed by our ties to British imperialism, and that the time has come for us to move forward, once and for all. Recent census figures reveal an interesting trend, the growth of Asian and Polynesian New Zealander’s, and the downward trend of European New Zealander’.
Proponents cite such data in support of a growing ‘New Zealand identity’ that is no longer in line with our relationship to Britain. The politically-savvy usually support greater involvement in Asia-Pacific engagement, and call upon regional solidarity as opposed to the internationalisation of our foreign policy commitments. Our economic ties suggest that we benefit much more from our strategic interests in Asia and the greater Pacific region, and some say our identity should reflect this position more evenly.
However, calls for a nationwide referendum have been ignored, and almost every political party is yet to set out an official position on the matter. It seems rather obvious that New Zealanders are in no rush to discuss it at great length, and Australian public opinion polls reflect the same.
The stability of our British monarchy is obviously a leading contributor, and political instability in republics across the globe sends warning signs across both nations. Queen Elizabeth II is highly regarded, and almost every New Zealander can articulate a number of sincere compliments towards her character as a leader, and also to the principles that she holds to dearly as Queen.
The more observant have also referred to the international democracy index, where Commonwealth realms are highly ranked, and where some of the lowest ranked are republican in governance. This argument calls for the continuation of our status-quo as the ultimate safeguard to the healthiest democracy.
The recent Royal Wedding is an interesting social observation, and adds further clarity to the debate. Most New Zealanders see the occasion as a great success. Excitement blossomed, even with our middle-aged and younger audiences. An official royal visit by Prince Williams at the time of the recent Christchurch earthquake also sparked admiration for the British royal family, and his emotional sympathy during the recovery certainly touched the hearts of many. Public gestures proved that members of the royal family are human afterall, and that they share in our moments of trial, and of mourning.
Where do young people sit in this dialogue? It’s important to recognise that young people are active on both sides of the divide. Both the New Zealand Republican Movement and the New Zealand Monarchy Society are credited with active young ambassadors. There is a strong sense of pride to see young people engaged in dialogue around the future of this nation, and it is a very encouraging sign.
Young people haven’t known an era prior to Queen Elizabeth II, and through education we are being taught various government structures and frameworks. We are given the tools to make an informed decision without the input of our media, where agenda obviously prevails.
Ultimately, it is glaringly obvious that New Zealanders are in no hurry to commit to national dialogue on this matter. Faults with this status-quo are hard to come by, and, at face value, the benefits from republicanism seem distorted.
It’s most likely that the discussion will take an interesting turn with the passing of our existing constitutional monarch, and the bestowal of a successor. However, that is a discussion for another day.
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