Sat | Sep 30, 2023

Editorial | Don’t delay ditching the Queen

Published:Sunday | June 12, 2022 | 12:09 AM
From left: Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall; Prince Charles; Queen Elizabeth II; Prince George; Prince William; Princess Charlotte; Prince Louis and Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, stand on the balcony of Buckingham Palace on the last of four days of celebrations
From left: Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall; Prince Charles; Queen Elizabeth II; Prince George; Prince William; Princess Charlotte; Prince Louis and Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, stand on the balcony of Buckingham Palace on the last of four days of celebrations to mark the Platinum Jubilee.

Prime Minister Andrew Holness needs to clarify if his Government is really committed to ditching the monarchy and establishing Jamaica as a republic, and if it is, when. For either his legal and constitutional affairs minister, Marlene Malahoo Forte, was being deliberately obfuscatory when she spoke on the matter in Parliament last week, or she has the issues jumbled in her mind.

Indeed, no one wishes to contemplate the alternative that some have floated: that the administration hopes to drag out the question of the monarchy for as long as possible. If that was in fact the case, the obvious question is: to what end?

The issue of Jamaica’s transition from monarchy to republic has been debated for decades, at least since the end of the island’s first decade of independence. By and large, it is a settled question. The two major political parties, Mr Holness’ Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) and the People’s National Party (PNP), as well as a majority of Jamaicans, agree that we should have a ceremonial, rather than an executive president.

The only outstanding question is how to elect the president: whether by a two-thirds of the members of the House and Senate sitting jointly or separately. But as the former prime minister P.J. Patterson said last year, that issue can be resolved in a half hour’s discussion between Mr Holness and the Opposition leader, Mark Golding. The leaders could use the rest of the time to address other matters.

Moreover, any lingering doubts or reticence the prime minister may have had in telling the head of the dysfunctional Mountbatten-Windsor clan that she can no longer be our head of state seemed to have dissipated in March when the Duke of Cambridge, the Queen’s grandson and second in line to her throne, visited Jamaica. Mr Holness told him that Jamaica was “moving on … in short order”. In Jamaica, the monarchy is on life support.

So when Ms Malahoo Forte spoke in Parliament’s sectoral debate last week, a half year into her new portfolio, it was expected that she would outline a clear, consensus-trodden path to republic status. In-between a pretentiously meandering dissertation on Jamaica’s constitutional history, she did something of sorts. At least, a timetable for a referendum on the monarchy – as would be required when amending deeply entrenched constitutional clauses – appears to have been established. It would happen around the time of the next general election, which is due in 2025. That date, however, is likely to be fraught with political complications.


But there are matters to unravel. Even as she suggested that a monarchy referendum was on the horizon, Ms Malahoo Forte talked of a full overhaul of the Jamaican constitution and appeared to suggest, at least at points, that the question of the monarchy would be part of that review. If that is indeed the Government’s intention, the whole thing becomes a very complex and lengthy undertaking. For except at the first go, the creation of the Independence Constitution, constitutional reforms exercises in Jamaica have been notoriously slow affairs. It would likely take a decade or more to complete the review that Ms Malahoo Forte has on agenda.

In this regard, we agree with National Integrity Action (NIA), the anti-corruption and good governance lobby group, that the administration “separate the timetable for achieving consensus on a necessary comprehensive constitutional review from implementing the existing consensus on removing the Queen of England and establishing a Jamaican republic, with our own Head of State”.

Indeed the Government should get going immediately the legislative requirements for removing the Queen.

Those bills will have to sit on the table of Parliament for three months before being debated and another three months after the debate before they are voted on. They will require two-thirds support in both houses for them to carry. After that, there has to be a minimum, two months, and up to six, before the Parliament’s vote has to be ratified in a referendum.

Ms Malahoo Forte suggested that the plan is for such a referendum to be in line with Jamaica’s election cycle.

“We are going there (a referendum) – hopefully, by the time the next election comes around, unless more ;pressing matters arise or something overtakes,” she said. “But that is the aim.” This quote is notably not in the distributed text of the minister’s remarks, which focused on broad constitutional reform, without a time frame for the work to be completed.


There are several reasons why this newspaper is concerned about a plebiscite on any question being held in an election/political season, or close to that period, which is to say, within 18 months of the date of a general election. It is very likely that in such a circumstance the question on which people are asked to pronounce, even if there was prior consensus, will become caught in the partisan maelstrom of the competition for Government. In other words, the risk is of the vote morphing from referendum on the specific issue to one on the government and its policies. In that event, even if an administration wins a plurality, it would unlikely achieve a super majority – if that is what is necessary. That could hardly be the minister’s endgame. Such a possibility should be avoided.

Ms Malahoo Forte says she will establish a constitutional review committee, on which she will table information after the prorogation of this session of Parliament. By then, hopefully, the minister will have rethought her position, or been commanded so to do. In that event, the committee could get along with the minister’s broad preview of the Constitution, absent the monarchy question.

In the meantime, the Government should go ahead with those issues on which there is already consensus, the principal one being bringing to an end the outsourcing of our symbols of sovereignty and national aspirations and vesting them in an individual and an institution who represent the ideals of democracy, and philosophically rooted in the will of the people, rather than the historic precept, even if it no longer obtains, that the basis of power is heredity.

Further, Ms Malahoo Forte shouldn’t overthink and overstate the complexities of the legislative task of removing the monarchy, which appeared to be her wont in her speech to Parliament. That is a recipe for paralysis. Jamaicans are capable of even more complex tasks.