An itchiness is breaking out across the body politic of the 15 Commonwealth 'realms'
If there were ever a reminder of how quickly the global conversation is veering towards republicanism and reparations for slavery, it is Ralph Gonsalves’ assertion that having the British monarch as head of state is “an absurdity”.
On Monday (May 8) the Prime Minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines said he would like to end the British sovereign’s right to take his country’s highest office. In so doing, Dr Gonsalves became the second Caribbean leader to publicly moot dumping King Charles III as head of state, within 48 hours of the coronation.
Right before Dr Gonsalves spoke, the St Kitts and Nevis prime minister said much the same thing. Like Dr Gonsalves, Dr Terrance Drew picked the British Broadcasting Corporation to convey his intention to hold public consultations on his country’s move to become a republic.
Despite gaining independence from Britain nearly 40 years ago, he said, St Kitts and Nevis is “not totally free” so long as Charles is its head of state.
What all of this underlines is the itchiness that is breaking out across the body politic of the 15 Commonwealth “realms”, as the British royal family loves to call the countries that retain the monarch as head of state.
2023 is not 2009, when St Vincent and the Grenadines tried and failed to dispose off the monarchy. The proposal didn’t get the required two-thirds support, with only 45 per cent saying they’d like their own president, rather than Queen Elizabeth II.
2023 is not 1999, when Australia held a referendum to pick between two different republican models and failed to win sufficient support for either. But Australia’s prime minister Anthony appointed an assistant minister for the republic – the first ever – last May . And just days before the coronation, he spoke forthrightly about the issue: “I think that Australia should have an Australian as our head of state, I don’t shy away from that. I haven’t changed my views.”
Since Queen Elizabeth’s death, the Bahamas, Belize, Grenada, Jamaica and Antigua and Barbuda have all expressed unease about their overly close ties to the British monarchy. At least two of them – Belize and Jamaica – are actively working towards the ending they want, having established commissions to guide the governments towards becoming republics.
The situation is rather different, however, in Canada. There, a poll released in late April indicated that just over half the country no longer wanted a constitutional monarchy. And in Quebec, where the monarchy is an especially touchy issue because the French-speaking region was colonised by the British, republicanism is already becoming law, in a way. A law passed last December made it optional for Quebecois legislators to swear the oath of allegiance to the crown.
That said, any republican movement in Canada would have to clear substantial political hurdles – approval from both houses of parliament and unanimous consent of all 10 provinces. King Charles and his heirs and successors may be safe in Canada for a bit longer yet. But elsewhere…the game may be up.