Jamaica, one of the world’s smallest, most high achieving and upstart nations, will next year definitely use the occasion of its 60th independence anniversary celebrations to dump Britain’s Queen Elizabeth as its head of state, install its own native president, and become a republic like four of its Caribbean Community neighbors.
Clearly spurred into action by the ease with which Barbados made the transition at the end of November, Prime Minister Andrew Holness said the decision has surely been made for the island to sever the last major colonial link to Britain.
The governing Labor Party (JLP) has come under tremendous pressure at home since millions of Jamaicans watched the installation of Governor General Sandra Mason as the first Barbadian president during the 55th independence anniversary celebrations on Nov. 30. The Barbados ceremonies have triggered a fierce debate on the island, with many wondering why “Little England” was able to complete the process before Jamaica.
Now, governments in Antigua and St. Lucia are facing calls to do likewise but no cabinet in the region is under more pressure than Jamaica’s as national pride swells and as a wide cross section in Jamaica thinks that diamond jubilee observances next August present the perfect opportunity to complete the independence process, especially because the 40th and 50th landmarks were missed.
“It’s just amazing the potential that exists, 60 years of independence and the 60th year has generated much interest in our status as a nation and those questions will be addressed shortly. I’m certain those who have ears to hear those vague terms will understand them until it is time to have that full and direct discourse, which that process has started,” Holness said at a public ceremony.
Jamaicans will, however, have to vote in a referendum to make the transition. In the case of Barbados, Prime Minister Mia Mottley’s cabinet was able to avoid such constitutional hurdles and challenges because the governing Labor Party (BLP) has 29 of the 30 house seats so the question of a two-thirds parliamentary vote became unnecessary.
Of the 15 nations in Caricom, only Guyana, Trinidad, Dominica and now Barbados are republics. Tiny Montserrat is still a British colony but is nevertheless a full member of the bloc.
Even if he was lukewarm to the idea of making the switch, Holness would have been cornered by a number of ideas that were offered to him by former prime minister and elder statesman P.J Patterson.
Patterson, 86, wrote both Holness and Opposition Leader Mark Golding urging them to not only meet on the issue but to share a public platform to sell the idea to a Jamaican public which has intermittently been hearing about plans for the island to become a republic and sever the last colonial vestige. Once that is done, the road to a republic would be easy, seamless and trouble free he says.
“It is repulsive to contemplate a diamond jubilee where our constitution rests on an order in council dated 23rd July 1962 and a head of state who does not reflect our own image and enables every Jamaican to aspire reaching the highest position within our native land. The time is long due to seek yonder horizon during the year of our jubilee,” Patterson wrote in his letter.
Just as lucid and clear on the issue is Attorney General Marlene Malahoo Forte. She said serious work has already started and the new year should produce results.
“A document is currently being prepared for the prime minister and I do believe that, in due course, perhaps early in the new year [an announcement will be made]. When we go into January the time is going to be taken up with the budget process to come and then, by the time the budget debate and the sectoral debate are over, something concrete will be announced by then. He [PM] has given instructions to myself as attorney general and minister of justice to immediately commence the work of advising on the work of reforming the constitution. The work had actually commenced before, and it is going to be done. It is going to be an involved process, but I am happy that it will begin in earnest,” she told the Observer newspaper.