Sun | Apr 23, 2017

Editorial: The monarchy and beyond

Published:Saturday | September 12, 2015 | 9:00 AM

Another major royal event, marking a reign of 63 years and seven months by Queen Elizabeth II, could likely revive the decades-old national debate about the monarchy's role in Jamaica and how to change the Constitution to consolidate our independence.

Increasingly, Jamaicans have been expressing lukewarm feelings about the concept of the monarchy, even though more than half of persons polled were positive about the Queen's 2002 visit to the island. Indeed, she was greeted with great enthusiasm during that tour and all other occasions on which she visited her subjects.

Despite the cordial reception of royal visitors since Independence in 1962, political leaders of both sides of the divide have publicly espoused the desire to break from the Crown by abolishing the constitutional relationship that exists between Jamaica and Great Britain.

Former Prime Minister P.J. Patterson made a call in 2003 for the abolition of the monarchy by 2007. It didn't happen. Taking up the call in 2010, Prime Minister Bruce Golding vowed to take steps "to amend the Constitution to replace the Queen with a Jamaican president who symbolises the unity of the nation". It didn't happen. Meantime, Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller said in her inaugural address in 2011 that completing Jamaica's Independence "full circle" would include replacing the constitutional monarchy with a republic.

 

incremental steps

Having made this declaration, however, only incremental steps have been achieved, such as the removal of the oath of allegiance to the Queen by parliamentarians. However, we continue to pay obeisance to the Queen. The courts of the land are conducted in the name of the Queen, and laws are passed in her name.

The country has never heard from either side concrete proposals for transferring the powers of the monarchy to, say, a local president. And how is the decision to be made: Is it to be done through a referendum, as some suggest, or through Parliament?

Undoubtedly, there are a significant number of Jamaicans who think the prime minister is the head of State, but that is not the case. The Queen of England, Elizabeth II, is the Jamaican head of State, and her duties are carried out by the governor general. Those duties, mainly ceremonial, include important functions like making appointments to the Senate and the judiciary. The governor general also has the power to summon and dissolve Parliament.

The debate over the monarchy is not only in far-flung countries of the Realm like Jamaica; it is also taking place in Great Britain, where some argue that as a democratic country, she ought to cherish democratic values such as equality of citizenship, accountability and transparency. It is felt that there is no room for a head of state who is placed there by right of birth. The republicans who responded to the Queen's celebration by saying "a long reign is a reason for reform" argue that the presence of a monarch is incompatible with democratic society.