Revisiting the idea of a republic

The shared identity of a people defines a nation far more than lines on a map.

Who we are is the quintessential question asked by each person, each generation.

As do culture, technology, demographics and economies, nations, too, change over time.

However, there are some things that bind us to the concept of nationhood.

If you were to ask 100 people what makes us Bahamian, you may get 100 answers.

We are indeed many things – white, black and all the colors that comprise the human spectrum, as well as descendants of people from countries near and far.

But the common thread that runs through patriots is that we love The Bahamas, even if we are not always sure what we should be.

Our ties to the British monarchy are complex – a history of bloodshed, abducted people, stolen treasure and colonial segregation justifiably give many of us pause in continuing to embrace the British.

But the Crown, its traditions, law and language are so baked into our Bahamian DNA that many fear shedding the utmost lasting vestige of our colonizers – having the British monarch as our head of state – leaves too much uncertainty.

The last constitutional commission was asked to “examine whether The Bahamas should evolve from a constitutional monarchy into a republic within the Commonwealth of Nations”.

In its 2013 report, the commission said many people seemed not to care.

Then, there were those in the older generation who were staunchly supportive of remaining under the Crown.

“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,” the commission wrote in its report.

It continued, “By and large, the main reasons given by Bahamians for advocating the removal of the monarchy were ideological, and did not go to any issues of governance.”

The commission, while empathizing with the idea of a republic, stopped short of suggesting one in the near term nearly 10 years ago.

“The commission endorses all of the ideological and symbolic reasons for a sovereign state such as The Bahamas to exercise full political and legal control over its head of state, and thinks that the advent of a republic is inevitable in the continuing quest for a full realization of our independence and sovereignty,” the report read.

“But the commission does not pretend to make the case that seeking republican status is absolutely necessary at this time.”

Formally, it recommended that the status quo remain as the nation was prepared for a republic in the future.

“The commission does not at this time recommend that there should be any change in the queen as the head of state and the Office of Governor General as the representative of the queen under a constitutional monarchy,” the report read.

“However, the government should embark on a process of public education to prepare the public for a possible change to a republican form of government at some point in the future.

“Should such a change be made, it would require amendments to the constitution providing for a non-executive national president, as head of state, to discharge the functions formerly vested in the governor general, with the prime minister and Cabinet continuing to exercise executive powers.”

Despite the recommendation, we have had no such public education or preparation.

Perhaps we are only engaged in a thought exercise and there is no real appetite for constitutional change.

Certainly, given our history, no significant constitutional change requiring referendum is likely to be successful.

Moving away from the Crown is not a new idea.

It was kept at bay, we believe, by an unpredictability of what The Bahamas would become under majority rule, let alone independence.

Nearly 50 years have passed.

We have managed just fine with a ceremonial monarch as our head of state since independence, though we know by now that we do not need that tether to survive and thrive.

We are far from alone in countries that maintain the British monarch as head of state.

And whether changing that would be anything more than a performative, potentially expensive exercise remains to be seen.

But with the passing of the crown from Queen Elizabeth II to King Charles III, we should continue to discuss the issue.

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