With a mere six months left before Jamaica celebrates its 60th independence anniversary, there are even clearer signs than three months ago that authorities are moving to ditch the British monarchy and to convert the island into a republic.
Governor General Sir Patrick Allen last week spoke about the recent creation of a legal and constitutional affairs ministry and plans to overhaul and update local laws with a change of status that has gained new life ever since Barbados ditched Britain’s Queen Elizabeth, became a republic, and appointed its own native head of state at the end of November as it was celebrating 55 years as an independent nation.
The administration of Prime Minister Andrew Holness has already committed to joining regional neighbors Guyana, Trinidad, Dominica and Barbados as republics and so far Holness has the support of the main opposition People’s National Party (PNP).
Former Attorney General Marlene Malahoo Forte will head the new ministry that the governor general says will preside over “the process to shift Jamaica’s status as a constitutional monarchy.” Critics say that announcement was the clearest indication yet that upstart Jamaica will make the switch this year.
Opposition Leader Mark Golding says his party supports the transition to a republic but reminds islanders and government that Jamaicans would most likely have to vote in a referendum to make the transition. The Mia Mottley government, for example, in Barbados was able to use the other two-thirds parliamentary majority option and switch the country as the governing labor party had won all the seats in the 2018 general elections and did so again mid last month.
“The referendum will have to follow the legislation being passed through parliament, which is a process of at least six months. But look, Jamaica truly becoming independent is something that is significant and it is worth us investing in the referendum process. I think it is important that we do this when we have the momentum and can agree around the issues,” Golding told the Observer newspaper.
Barbados’ globally televised transition ceremony, attended by Britain’s Prince Charles and global pop star Rihanna, stirred nationalist pride in Jamaica triggering vows from political parties and activists group that this year’s independence celebrations would not occur without the island becoming a republic. Rihanna is a Barbadian native.
Asked recently about other members of the 15-nation group making the transition as well, new regional secretary general Carla Barnett says it is likely others will follow along.
“The truth is that is something that countries themselves have to work through. We’ve never had a uniformed process across the Caricom region. We’ve had countries which have retained the British monarchy as the head of state and we’ve had countries that have had executive presidents and this has been standing for many, many years.”
She noted that Barbados moved to republican status because the country felt the time was right and that it was the right thing to do.
“And so, they proceeded to do it. I am expecting that other countries in the region will consider and do what they feel is right within their own national consideration,” she said.
Successive governments in Jamaica have tried to make the transition dating back to the Michael Manley administration, but the lack of opposition support had derailed his campaign. In the ’90s, PM Percival Patterson had expressed determination to do so and missed out. Portia Simpson Miller, the lone female head of government, also failed to carry through with promises while she was in government during 50th anniversary observances.
“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 as Barbados became a republic last year.