Bridgetown, Barbados (292031)
Bridgetown, Barbados Credit: Cyril Josh Barker photo

It is now becoming absolutely clear that the power move by Barbados last week to abandon a system that still allowed Britain’s Queen Elizabeth to be its head of state has shamed several of the regional neighbors into initiating spirited discussions about taking similar action, and among them is upstart Jamaica which next year will celebrate 60 years of independence from the English.

The island nation of about 300,000 switched to a republic and in doing so, not only dumped the British monarch but picked Dame Sandra P. Mason, its last governor general or the queen’s island representative, to be its first native president while it joined Guyana,Trinidad and Dominica as regional republics.

Televised worldwide, the late-night ceremony had also coincided with 55 years of independence and it appears to have sparked anger among nationalists and regionalists in several countries including Jamaica, St. Lucia and Antigua so far, with Jamaica giving the strongest hints that it is next on the runway for takeoff.

Late next year, the island of about 3 million will observe 60 years of independence from Britain and there now appears to be a mad scramble to push for the transition to a republic in the wake of Barbados’ bold but uneventful move.

The man leading the charge is former Prime Minister and elder statesman P.J. Patterson. Patterson has in the past week written to both of the two main parties urging them to use next year’s jubilee celebrations as the ideal opportunity and plank to make the long desired constitutional move. Every government for the past 60 years, for example, has discussed the need to do so but none has actually ventured out, not by a long shot. Patterson thinks the national mood is just about right, especially so because both the governing Labor Party (JLP) and the National Party (PNP) have said they are ready to switch.

“It would be repulsive to contemplate a diamond jubilee where our constitution rests on an order in council dated the 23rd July, 1962 and a head of state who does not reflect our own image and enables every Jamaican to aspire in reaching the highest position within our native land,” he argued. “I write to you jointly as our prime minister and leader of the opposition who have the political authority and the opportunity to capture a truly historic landmark by [the] establishment of Jamaica as a republic within the Commonwealth and simultaneously repatriate our constitution during the 60th anniversary of our independence in 2022.”

And unlike Barbados where the governing party won all the seats and used its overwhelming parliamentary majority to sever that colonial connection to London, Jamaica would have to take the issue to referendum. Patterson says this should be easier than in the past as both parties agree on this issue and could share a common platform to sell the idea to voters.

Jamaica has an inordinately long list of requirements to amend entrenched constitutional clauses like the monarchy but Patterson and several island scholars think this could be achieved before jubilee observances in early August.

Others openly discussing republicanism include St. Lucia where former Prime Minister Kenny Anthony argued that the time had come. “We ridiculed Barbados whenever we had the opportunity. There is no hope for ‘Little England’ we would say. Yet, among the nations of the region, Barbados in recent times has chosen to be the most courageous. For my part, we should tarry no further and collectively, act together in unison to commence the process to repatriate our constitution to where it belongs, in the sovereign will of our people,” he told regional news agency CMC.

In Antigua, meanwhile, Dorbrene O’Marde the head of the national Reparations Commission, said: “I applaud the Barbadian government, the Barbadian people, Prime Minister Mia Mottley and of course, special congratulations to the new president of Barbados. I think the transition is significant, very significant. Barbados has ended a colonial relationship with Great Britain. Barbadians have opted for total sovereignty. They are now in a position where decisions about Barbados are being made by Barbadians. It is totally important that the rest of us in this Caribbean who have remained as independent countries or as colonies understand the significance of this move,” he told the Observer newspaper.

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