Published On: Thu, May 25th, 2023
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Jamaica to vote on getting rid of King Charles as early as next year | Royal | News

King Charles

King Charles’s position as head of state in Jamaica could be put to a vote next year (Image: Getty)

Jamaicans could vote to get rid of King Charles as head of state as soon as next year, a rights campaigner has said. Jamaica’s Prime Minister, Andrew Holness, told Prince William and Princess Kate during the royals’ controversial visit to the Caribbean in 2022 that his country wants to be fully independent and address the “unresolved” issue of slavery.

The former British colony, which gained independence on August 6, 1962, but retained Elizabeth II as head of state, is widely tipped as one of the next to scrap the monarchy.

The Bahamas, Antigua and Barbuda, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Australia and Belize are also expected to ditch King Charles, who is currently head of state in 15 realms.

Mr Holness announced the formation of a Constitutional Reform Committee in March to aid Jamaica’s transition. Marlene Malahoo Forte, Jamaica’s Minister for Legal and Constitutional Affairs, said an urgent referendum could be held in 2024, a year earlier than some had anticipated.

But rights campaigners have said while a referendum could take place as soon as next year, the Jamaican government is putting the vote at risk by failing to outline what will replace King Charles.

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Professor Rosalea Hamilton, who co-chairs the governance and human rights campaign group Advocates Network Jamaica, told “It is important to remove the king as head of state, but removing the institutional arrangement that we’ve inherited is as important, or today even more important, than the king himself.

“The highly centralised governance structure that shuts out the voice of the Jamaican people, we say, must change. We’re advocating for a republic that makes the Jamaican people sovereign.”

She said a referendum next year is possible because the prime minister has the option to call an election at any time, adding: “He may want to do this before the election or maybe during the election.

“There’s a question mark as to whether he will couple the election with the referendum. Those are our possibilities.”

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Mr Holness has said establishing a republic is a priority, but asked if her country’s government is taking enough action to do so, Professor Hamilton said the signs are not very encouraging.

She accused the government of failing to educate Jamaicans about what might replace the King and of rushing through a public consultation which she said failed to meet national guidelines.

Professor Hamilton also claimed some members of the 14-strong Constitutional Reform Committee are “not very knowledgeable”.

Jamaica’s government has announced its ambition to remove the monarch and replace the Governor General with a president appointed by the prime minister in consultation with opposition parties.

But Professor Hamilton said voters need to know what the president’s roles and responsibilities will be. She accused Ms Malahoo Forte of failing to share details when the minister met members of the Jamaican Advocates Network.

She said Jamaicans have waited too long and now need to root out the “monarchical arrangement” which concentrates power in the hands of the prime minister and Cabinet.

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Charles, then Prince of Wales, and Andrew Holness in Rwanda (Image: Getty)

Professor Hamilton said: “We want a more decentralised approach to governance where the Jamaican people have a say.

“The polls show more Jamaicans want to get rid of the King. And so there’s an agreement and a commitment and [Andrew Holness] said it in front of [Prince William] that we’re moving on. So I think what is not clear is what exactly ‘moving on’ means.

“Are we going to continue a dysfunctional governance arrangement?”

The uncertainty about what will replace Charles raises the risk dissatisfied voters will opt for the status quo, though Professor Hamilton said this would be out of protest at government failure rather than because Jamaicans want to keep King Charles.

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King Charles pictured during the Coronation at Westminster Abbey (Image: Getty)

Asked why now is the right time to transition, Professor Hamilton said: “After 60 years Jamaicans have grown up. We were a new nation and there were hopes and expectations the people we elected would do the right thing. Jamaicans are recognising now that was a flawed assumption.

“Most people are over the monarch. The older generation who grew up with his mother [Queen Elizabeth II] and had a love for her, most of them are on their way out. The younger generation doesn’t have that affiliation. Many of them don’t even know who the King is…

“If he is retained, it is about retaining what they know, which is nothing about the monarch. It’s not a decision to keep the monarch because somehow we think the monarch is good.”

When Elizabeth II died on September 8 last year, Charles automatically became head of state in the UK and the 14 Commonwealth Realms.

Charles was crowned on May 6 in an historic ceremony at Westminster Abbey along with his wife, Queen Camilla, in front of a television audience of millions.

Professor Hamilton said the Coronation made no difference to Jamaicans but provided another occasion to continue the debate about the country becoming a republic.

She said: “The opulence was disgusting for some people who felt it was just a reminder that what we saw – all that pomp, pageantry and ceremony – was done on the backs of the blood, sweat and tears of our ancestors. We’re talking about ill-begotten wealth.

“For many of us there was nothing to rejoice or celebrate. It’s really just a slap in the face.”

Some royal watchers said ahead of King Charles’s Coronation that the presence of the Duchess of Sussex, who is mixed race, might have improved perceptions of the monarchy. While Prince Harry attended the event, his wife, Meghan Markle, stayed in the US where they live with their children Prince Archie Harrison and Princess Lilibet Diana.

Professor Hamilton said: “The very fact she was left out just feeds into the narrative that the institution is racist. They can’t manage and share love and respect for a member of their family? It just reinforces the views held of the monarchy. This is just further evidence.”

In recent months, the Royal Family has come under fire for its past ties to slavery with Prince William expressing “profound sorrow” for it at a dinner held during his trip to Jamaica. He described it as abhorrent and something that “forever stains our history”.

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Professor Hamilton said: “In spite of all that has happened, in spite of the fact that the UN has called what happened crimes against humanity, and that has not been recognised on the part of the monarch, and that there’s no apology and discussion about reparations – it’s just a slap in the face.”

Asked if Charles can change the monarchy’s fortunes in Jamaica, Professor Hamilton said: “If their intent is to maintain and increase their fortunes through us, then we have no interest. Nobody wants to be used.

“What is on the table is a mutually respectful relationship that recognises what has happened in the past, that seeks to create amends, repairs and reparatory justice. Any credible relationship with the monarchy and the British government has to include that.”

Some experts have argued Jamaica’s path to republicanism may not be straightforward due to current legal and constitutional constraints.

Robert Hazell, Professor of Government and the Constitution at University College London, told “Successive Jamaican Prime Ministers (from both main political parties) have expressed the wish that Jamaica should become a republic

“But the Jamaican constitution is extremely difficult to amend. To amend the provisions about the Crown and the head of state would require a Bill to be carried by a two-thirds majority in both Houses of the Jamaican Parliament, followed by a referendum.

“Any amendment to try to change that high threshold would have to go through the same process of a two-thirds vote followed by a referendum: so they are in a Catch 22 on this.”

Professor Hamilton said there is consensus among Jamaica’s parliamentarians, but the difficulty right now is ensuring Jamaicans know what is being proposed and understand the referendum process.

She said: “That idea we can change this current arrangement without properly informing the Jamaican people is not on. We’ll see how the government responds.”

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Elizabeth II meets children during a trip to Jamaica (Image: Getty)

Asked how Jamaica becoming a republic might influence other Caribbean countries where King Charles is head of state, Professor Hamilton said it may speed up the trend, adding: “More and more countries are moving away.”

In six of the 14 Commonwealth realms, more voters have said they would choose to become a republic in a referendum tomorrow than would stay as a constitutional monarchy, according to polling by Lord Ashcroft.

Jamaica’s results show 49 percent are in favour of a republic while 40 percent are pro-monarchy. Eleven percent don’t know, the poll shows.

It also shows there would be a 47 percent split if a referendum were to be held in 10 years’ time and 58 percent of those surveyed believe the monarchy has been beneficial to Jamaica.

Professor Hamilton said: “We’ve done our own polling in Jamaica and it is about 30 or 40 percent that supports [a republic]. It has shifted. The amount of people who were uncertain grew and I think the uncertainty has to do with this debate we’re having about governance.

“The most important thing for me is where we’re going and a clarity about the direction that they’re taking the country. How are they going to make the Jamaican people sovereign?”

She added the transition represents the unfinished business of emancipation and decolonisation: “It is important for us as a nation, and for me individually as someone who wants the best for my country. I think this is the route we must take.

“We have tremendous potential and need to unleash that. The governance arrangements we have today constrain and stifle the development of the Jamaican people. We can achieve more.”

The Office of the Prime Minister of Jamaica and Buckingham Palace did not respond to requests for comment.

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