The Coronation of Charles III will be broadcast around the world on Saturday to millions of viewers. But it will have a particular resonance in Jamaica, where there is very serious thought… of getting rid of the king.
Jamaica could indeed become the next state in the Commonwealth to do away with the constitutional monarchy and become a republic, following the example of Barbados which made the leap in 2021. If all goes according to plan, the Governor General ( representative of the king, as in Canada) will be replaced by a president by the next legislative elections in 2025.
This is not the first time that the Caribbean island has dreamed of a republic. Steps have been taken in this direction since the country’s independence in 1962, but without success. But this little music kept getting bigger, to the point of turning into a big sounding stereo.
In a sign of real ownership, a ministry dedicated to the Republican transition was set up in early 2022, along with a “Constitutional Reform Committee” (CRC) to advise the government in this process.
This transpartisan entity, which includes jurists, politicians of all stripes and even a Canadian expert (see the last tab), will also be responsible for “educating” the population through various awareness campaigns, because ultimately, Jamaicans will have to decide the question by referendum.
In other words, the train is on the tracks and moving. “It’s been talked about long enough. It’s time to say enough is enough,” said Laleta Davis-Mattis, general counsel at the University of the West Indies at Kingston and CRC member.
For this recognized jurist, the case is even quite “urgent”.
Why now and not before? Because the fruit is ripe.
There is widespread resentment among Jamaicans – 92% Afro-descendant – towards the Crown, which is held responsible for their enslavement, suffering and poverty.
The events of recent years have only accelerated this decolonial reflection.
First the “Windrush scandal” in 2018, where hundreds of Britons of Caribbean origin were detained or, in some cases, sent back to their country of origin, because declared illegal despite promises to the contrary made by London. Added insult: since 2003 a visa has been required of Jamaicans wishing to travel to the UK. An aberration considering the queen is on their passport.
Two years later, the momentum taken by the Black Lives Matter movement accentuates the desire for divorce. We discover in the wake that the Governor General of Jamaica has a medal – offered by the Queen – on which is represented a white angel, the foot on the throat of a black demon. The parallel with George Floyd is troubling.
Kate and William’s visit in March 2022 perpetuates the unease. Not only are the couple received in colonial pomp worthy of the 1930s, but the prince does not deliver the hoped-for apologies, contenting himself with expressing his “deep sorrow” for the mistakes of the past.
The death of the queen last September completes the circle. With the disappearance of this emblematic figure, Jamaica loses one of its last emotional ties with the British monarchy and begins to consider more than ever to turn the page. If Barbados does it, why not us?
“It’s a desire that sleeps in the water we drink,” summarizes lawyer Danielle Archer, a member of the Advocates Network group, which campaigns for the republic. There is this increasingly strong impression that this situation is absolutely unacceptable. »
In her tracks, Ms Archer admits she has “no intention” of following Saturday’s coronation and would rather watch “the cartoons”.
At present, the constitutional reform project is mainly supported by academics, politicians and a certain educated elite from civil society.
But this process is slowly starting to infuse into the population. More and more public meetings are organized to explain the issues to Jamaicans on the street, who know little of the concepts that sometimes go beyond them, starting with the exercise of the referendum, to which they have only been subjected once , in 1961 (regarding membership in the West Indies Federation).
According to Ms. Davis-Mattis, the 2025 deadline is still possible. But many questions are still unanswered as to the main lines of the new constitution, which will not be limited to the single question of the transition to the republic.
Will the President be elected by the people or appointed by the Prime Minister (the CRC has already offered the second option)? Should we keep the Privy Council, in London, as the final court of appeal (reputedly more neutral, but more expensive and less sensitive to the Jamaican reality), or fall back on the Caribbean Court of Justice, established in Trinidad?
What about the issue of beach access? About reinstating the death penalty? LGBTQ rights? Should Indigenous peoples be recognized as a founding people? Patwa (Jamaican Creole) as a second official language?
“It’s not just about getting rid of the king as head of state,” said economist and radio host Rosalea Hamilton, a prominent member of the Advocates Network. We must go further and take advantage of it to deepen our democracy. Our governance system is currently far too centralized. We must aim for a more participatory democracy in which the people have their say. This is the only way, in my opinion, to restore its full sovereignty. »
Either way, don’t rush anything. If the deadline is approaching, the stakes are too high to rush the process. Even if it means pushing back certain files, or even outright the referendum on the republic.
“Our committee has a schedule,” admits Laleta Davis-Mattis. But if you ask me if it’s important to take his time to debate and make sure everyone understands what he’s doing, I’d say yes. This process is more important than an agenda. Above all, we must not compromise it because we want to meet a deadline. If we have to prolong our reflection, we will do it… We cannot afford to fail. »
People of Jamaica
Christopher Columbus “discovered” Jamaica, then inhabited by the Tainos, the island’s first people.
Jamaica is occupied by Spain. The majority of the Taino population is decimated while the first slaves from Africa are brought to work on the sugar plantations.
Jamaica is officially ceded to the British under the Treaty of Madrid.
Slavery is abolished.
A rebellion of former slaves is suppressed by the British army. Jamaica becomes a Crown colony. Other race riots will take place in 1938, to protest against abuses and working conditions.
Activist Marcus Garvey founds the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League (UNIA-ACL). This Pan-Africanist organization still has a branch in Montreal.
Jamaica gains independence but remains in the Commonwealth. Alexander Bustamante, of the Jamaica Labor Party (JLP, centre-right), becomes the country’s first ever prime minister.
Election of Michael Manley, of the People’s National Party (PNP, centre-left), son of the father of independence, Norman Manley. Beginning of a socialist turn for the country. The experiment will last eight years.
The UK imposes visas on Jamaicans arriving in London to block illegal immigration.
Legal and Constitutional Affairs Minister Marlene Malahoo Forte says the transition to republic will be completed before the next elections scheduled for 2025. Support for this idea is growing with the death of Elizabeth II.
We do not yet know how the question will be formulated. But we know that under the Jamaican Constitution, a referendum is needed to cut ties with the British monarchy. The Press roamed the streets of Kingston to find out who would vote Yes or No to the republic. Some want to stick to London. Others, do away with this old symbol synonymous with suffering.
According to a poll conducted in August 2012 by the local newspaper The Gleaner, 44% of Jamaicans no longer wanted the Queen as head of state.
By 2022, that figure had risen to 56%.
This is to say the constant progression of the republican feeling in the homeland of Bob Marley.
This does not mean that the supporters of the status quo have disappeared. On the contrary. But their voices, perceived as discordant, are less heard.
“Our opinion is not very popular these days,” laments lawyer Kent Gammon, a former Jamaican Labor Party (JLP) candidate in the 2020 election.
They simply feel that the country is not ready. And that the advantages linked to the constitutional monarchy outweigh the disadvantages.
“I don’t see what’s wrong with our Constitution, it has served us for years,” said Gillian Rowlands, who met at a private club in New Kingston.
For this journalist and guidance consultant, the Crown should no longer be seen as a symbol of oppression. By divorcing London, the country would, on the contrary, be deprived of a figure of stability, which serves as a kind of compass.
“We live in a troubled country,” she said. We must first reconcile before talking about a utopian republic. »
You should know that Jamaica remains weakened by years of partisan politics, corruption and criminality.
Even though daily violence seems to be decreasing, the island still has the highest homicide rate in the world with 45 murders per 100,000 inhabitants, far ahead of Honduras (36 per 100,000 inhabitants) and South Africa (33 per 100,000 inhabitants), according to the Wisevoter website.
Corruption, considered endemic by 70% of Jamaicans (The Gleaner, 2020), has for its part led to a strong demobilization of the electorate, while the same two parties (the JLP and the People’s National Party) have shared power since over 60 years, in a sometimes tense climate.
So many worries that the republic will not solve overnight, believes Kent Gammon. According to the lawyer, author of the political essay Two Steps Forward, Two Steps Backward, the country must instead examine its conscience and play better within the limits of the political system in place.
As for the decolonial argument, very little for him. The republican project is, according to him, carried by an “anti-British elite with socialist tendencies”, which refuses to make peace with the past. “These people have a grudge, they have to move on. »
Isn’t getting rid of the monarchy the best way to do this?
He doubts it.
“We just need better leaders and better rulers,” the lawyer concludes. And we have to stop blaming others for our problems. England has nothing to do with our problems. On the contrary. I think she has served us well…”
Jamaica is the 116th country (out of 164) in terms of wealth.
Constitutionalist Richard Albert advises Jamaica on its transition to republicanism. He thinks the Caribbean island is a role model for Canada.
I am often asked to give advice on how to reform a constitution. I write about these topics. I have published a book specifically about the Caribbean. I bring expertise on the issues that these countries and governments have to deal with.
To advise and advise. But without using words like “you should” or “you must”. My role is to answer questions. Here’s what you want to do, here’s how to get there. That’s all.
Assess and advise the Jamaican government during its constitutional reform process. We are thinking more broadly about the strategic means necessary to bring this process to fruition.
It is true that past efforts have not borne fruit. But this time, it seems to be different, and here’s why: Before, there was a lot of talk, a lot of debate. But you no longer see the same kind of rhetorical intensity. What we see today is action. The proof is that Prime Minister Andrew Holness has created a Ministry of Legal and Constitutional Affairs, specifically dedicated to this dossier. It’s a huge step.
Two weeks ago, Minister Marlene Malahoo Forte held a press conference to update the nation on new developments in the case. She formalized our first recommendations, including that of transitioning the country from a constitutional monarchy to a republic. This means that the government, the opposition and civil society agree on this fundamental point. The work is not done yet, but it is an important step forward.
Yes, there have been reviews. I understand people who wonder what a Canadian is doing there. But I’ll tell you: I have a very personal connection to this process. First, because my great-grandfather was born in Jamaica and my parents met there. Then because I want us to do the same thing in Canada.
It is high time that Canada took the step and severed the last colonial ties with the United Kingdom. Is there the political and popular will to do so? That’s another story. I don’t know if the country is ready to do that. But I would like our leaders to have the courage to follow the Jamaican example.
There is a simple answer to this question: to become a republic and get rid of the monarchy, Canada must amend its Constitution. But the procedures for doing so are the most difficult in the world. They require agreement between both Houses of Parliament and the legislatures of all provinces and territories. Rewriting the Constitution would also open the door to all sorts of other issues. Because every province is going to want something, every interest group is going to want something, and everyone will find a reason to vote against the demands of the others. The moment you unlock the door to constitutional reform in Canada, the floodgates open and you will not be able to block the momentum of anything that wants to pass through that door. You simply cannot…