Will queen’s death change local views on monarchy?

Not surprisingly, the recent death of Queen Elizabeth II has raised discussions on whether Commonwealth realms like The Bahamas should remove the British monarch as head of state.

It is the one position no Bahamian could ever aspire to as it is unattainable.

For Bahamians, the monarchy is unconnected to their lives and has no practical impact.

Some thus found the reading of the Proclamation on the Accession of His Majesty King Charles III as the new head of state of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas in Parliament Square by former Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham an odd sight on Sunday.

A decade ago, when the Constitutional Commission, which was headed by former Attorney General Sean McWeeney, was conducting consultations, it found that Bahamians were largely indifferent on the question of the monarchy.

In its 2013 report, the commission noted that the traditional argument for the evolution to republican status is that it is a natural step toward completing the “circle of independence” and attaining full sovereignty, and that the retention of the British monarch is a historical anachronism, a hangover from the colonial era that formally ended in The Bahamas in 1973.

The commission said that by and large, the main reason given by Bahamians for advocating the removal of the monarchy was ideological, and did not go to any issues of governance.

While the constitutional commission that reported in 2013 did not at the time recommend that there should be any change in the queen as head of state and the office of governor general as the representative of the queen under a constitutional monarchy, the constitutional commission appointed by then-Prime Minister Perry Christie in 2002 and co-chaired by Paul L. Adderley and Harvey Tynes, QC, recommended that The Bahamas move away from the English Sovereign as head of state.

Removal of the British monarch as head of state will require a constitutional referendum as entrenched provisions will need to be amended.

Prime Minister Philip Davis was noncommittal on the issue on Friday.

“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,” he told reporters, but did not commit to such a referendum.

When he and his wife visited The Bahamas in March to commemorate the queen’s platinum jubilee, Prince William acknowledged this issue.

“Next year, I know you are all looking forward to celebrating 50 years of independence – your golden anniversary,” he said.

“And with Jamaica celebrating 60 years of independence this year and Belize celebrating 40 years of independence last year, I want to say this: we support with pride and respect your decisions about your future. Relationships evolve. Friendship endures.”

Any move away from the monarchy will not fundamentally impact government operations. It will be more psychological than practical, a move likely intended to foster deeper national pride, unity and identity.

There is a view that the country cannot be truly independent when its head of state is a non-Bahamian residing in Britain.

Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley said last year becoming a republic was a “springboard that we as a nation need in order to confront a completely different reality”.

She said the move was not a personal rejection of the queen, but “an assertion that it must be available to every Barbadian boy and girl to aspire to be the head of state of this nation. It is not just legal, it’s also symbolic.”

When Prince William made a courtesy call on him in March, Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness told him the island nation intends to sever ties with the British monarchy and become a republic.

Holness had previously noted Jamaica’s intention to remove the British monarch as head of state, as Barbados did last November when it became a republic with Dame Sandra Mason sworn in as president.

During the constitutional talks in London in 1972, the 15 Bahamian men who negotiated Bahamian independence with the British agreed that the British monarch would remain head of state.

When he spoke with The Nassau Guardian ahead of the country’s 40th anniversary in 2013, A. Loftus Roker, who was a member of the delegation, explained that the decision was made to leave the queen as a figurehead to comfort people who feared independence.

“We left her there as a symbol,” Roker said.

“That is why we also kept the Privy Council because they were saying Bahamian judges and all of that were going to do all sorts of foolish things. And we decided we would leave the Privy Council there as some last resort that you can go to that we don’t influence.”

He noted that under the Bahamian constitution, the monarch at no time has any power to do anything without the advice and instruction of the government of The Bahamas.

Speaking of the decision to leave the queen as head of state, George Smith, who was also a member of that delegation and who had traveled with then-Prime Minister Lynden Pindling across The Bahamas prior to independence, told The Nassau Guardian earlier this year, “It was the proper decision as it reflected what was assessed to be the popular opinion of the Bahamian people at the time.

“It was made clear that they harbored a tremendous affection for the monarch and it was the right thing to do. We benefited from the attention that came each time a member of the royal family visited The Bahamas, particularly when the queen came.”

Smith now supports the idea of The Bahamas becoming a republic.

“I would then be satisfied that in the land that I live in and in the land that I call home – when I wake up in the morning and I look at the waves and I look at the skies, I would not want to be living anywhere else – I want every job in this country to be within the reach of Bahamians,” he said.

“There’s one job that is constitutionally outside the reach of a Bahamian today and that is head of state.”

The 2013 commission recommended that the government 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.

However, no administration has followed that recommendation.

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Candia Dames

Candia Dames is the executive editor of The Nassau Guardian.

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