With the death of Queen Elizabeth II renewing discussions about abandoning the monarchy, Prime Minister Philip Davis on Friday said a constitutional referendum is “always” on the table for The Bahamas to move toward becoming a republic.
“The only challenge with us moving to a republic is that, as much as I would wish to do it, I can’t do it without your consent,” Davis told reporters after signing the book of condolence for the queen, who died last Thursday.
“I would have to have a referendum and the Bahamian people would have to say to me, ‘Yes.’”
When asked if a referendum is on the table, the prime minister replied, “For me, it is, always. Again, it is our people who will have to decide.”
The Bahamas is a constitutional monarchy and its head of state is the British monarch, King Charles III. Under this system of government, the monarch exercises authority in accordance with the Bahamian constitution.
A constitutional referendum would have to be held to abandon this system of government.
In 2012, then-Prime Minister Perry Christie formed a constitutional commission, headed by former Attorney General Sean McWeeney, which examined, among other issues, whether The Bahamas should “evolve from a constitutional monarchy into a republic within the Commonwealth of Nations”.
In its report, which was released in July 2013, the commission wrote, “The traditional argument for the evolution to republican status is that it is a natural step towards completing the ‘circle of independence’ and attaining full sovereignty and that the retention of the British monarch is an historical anachronism, a hangover from the colonial era that formally ended in The Bahamas 40 years ago.”
It noted that removing the queen as head of state and transitioning to a republic would involve “considerable” financial, administrative, social and cultural costs for The Bahamas because royal insignia on government buildings would have to be removed and the Royal Bahamas Defence Force and Royal Bahamas Police Force would have to undergo a rebranding.
The commission did not recommend removing the queen or her representative, the governor general, as head of state.
According to Minister of Social Services Obie Wilchcombe, The Bahamas is near the stage of moving on.
“There will be discussions – I’m sure – in our country about moving on,” he said.
“I’ve heard some of my colleagues express for a long time. That is a debate that will happen. The truth is The Bahamas has grown. We’re going to be 50 years old next year. We’ve come a long way from a fishing village to a colony.”
Wilchcombe said The Bahamas is independent.
He said it fights for itself and struggles on its own.
“We have partners and friends which will not go away,” Wilchcombe said.
“As other countries have done, they’ve remained members of the Commonwealth. So, there are stages and I think that we are near that stage and I expect more debate to continue.
“The truth is you’re part of a global community and as a part of a global community, we will always be reliant on each other. I think that [there are] those in our country who would like it to happen quickly. I think over the next several years, you will hear more and more discussions.”
Current and past Cabinet ministers and parliamentarians, including Minister of Foreign Affairs Fred Mitchell and former Minister of Health Renward Wells, have thrown their support behind abandoning the monarchy.
But that is not the view for everyone.
Former Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham said he is “quite comfortable as I am now”.
“If the government of The Bahamas chooses to do something else, it’s entirely up to them,” he said.
“But I’m not an advocate for any changes. I like it the way it is now.”
Ingraham noted that he accepted an invitation from the queen to become one of the privy councilors.
As a result, he said, he is not expected to “speak ill of the queen or the monarchy”.