“There is no way that in the third decade of the 21st century that we should have the decisions of this Parliament, and ultimately of this nation, signed off on by those who are not born here, do not live here and do not appreciate the everyday reality of those who live here. While we look forward to continuing the relationship with the British Monarch, we are conscious that after 396 years of colonial rule, and probably just over 386 years of British monarchical rule, the time has come for us to express the full confidence in ourselves as a people.”
Prime Minister Mia Mottley, October 20, 2021
Barbados’ desire to move away from a monarchical system of Government to a parliamentary republic is one that some of our previous political leaders have discussed in the decades since Independence in 1966, but for whatever reason never managed to get off the ground.
Here is a timeline of Barbados’ long journey towards a republican system of government.
1979 — The Barbados Labour Party (BLP) administration under the leadership of Prime Minister J.M.G.M “Tom” Adams set up a commission headed by retired politician, Sir Mencea Cox, to examine the possibility of Barbados becoming a republic. That commission concluded that Barbadians were not quite ready to take that step, preferring to retain the constitutional monarchy.
1996 —Another BLP administration, this time led by Prime Minister Owen Arthur, set up a Constitution Review Commission headed by former Attorney General Sir Henry Forde. This group held a series of meetings across Barbados and with Barbadians living overseas and submitted their report to Parliament on December 15, 1998. The commission recommended that Barbados should establish a Parliamentary republican system. Prime Minister Arthur stated that a referendum would be held to get Barbadians’ views on the matter before such a system was put in place.
1999 — General Elections were held in January of that year, shortly after the Forde Commission had submitted its report, and Barbados’ move towards a republic was a talking point throughout the campaign. In fact, the ruling party even commissioned an “anthem” of sorts entitled Our New Republic, performed by John King and Marissa Lindsay, and used it in some of their advertisements during the election period. The Arthur administration won a second term in office, leaving the opposition Democratic Labour Party (DLP) with only two of the 28 seats in the House of Assembly at the time.
2000 —The BLP introduced a Referendum Bill to Parliament and it was read for the first time on October 10, 2000. However, the process did not go any further at that time.
2005 — During his third term in office, in February of this year, Arthur proposed the referendum and the bill was introduced to Parliament and passed as the Referendum Act in October 2005.
The question Barbadians were expected to answer “yes” or “no” to was: Do you agree with the recommendation of the Constitution Review Commission that Barbados should become a parliamentary republic with the Head of State of Barbados being a President who is a citizen of Barbados?
No date was actually set for the referendum, but during that session of Parliament it was stated that Referendum Day could be proclaimed by the Governor General, being no more than 90 days and no less than 60 days from the date of proclamation. The Government had planned to hold the referendum by August 2008 (the constitutional end of that particular parliamentary term which had begun in May 2003) but on December 2, 2007, it was reported that it had been shifted to a later date.
However, that did not come to pass because general elections were held in January of 2008 and the Owen Arthur administration was voted out of office, replaced by the David Thompson-led DLP.
2015 — David Thompson died in office in October 2010 and was replaced by Freundel Stuart, who won the subsequent general election in 2013. As Barbados prepared to celebrate its 50th Anniversary of Independence in 2016, in March 2015, Stuart raised the republic question again after it had been dormant for several years. During a political meeting he made the following statement: “We cannot pat ourselves on the shoulder at having gone into independence having decolonised our politics; we cannot pat ourselves on the shoulder for having decolonised our jurisprudence by de-linking from the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council and explain to anybody why we still have a monarchical system. Therefore, Errol Barrow decolonised the politics, Owen Arthuir decolonised the jurisprudence, and Freundel Stuart is going to complete the process.”
At the time it was noted that the transition would take place while the island celebrated 50 years of independence, and it was going to be in the form of a bill presented to Parliament. Once again, this did not go any further.
2020 — In September, a new Parliament session started, only two and a half years after the Mia Mottley administration gained office, winning all 30 seats in the House of Assembly in the May 24, 2018 general elections. During the Throne Speech held to mark the start of the session, Governor General Dame Sandra Mason announced that by November 30, 2021, Barbados would become a republic. However, the general consensus among Barbadians might have been, “Haven’t we heard this all before?”
July 26 — On the Day of National Significance held to commemorate the anniversary of the 1937 Barbados riots, Prime Minister Mottley confirmed that on November 30, the 55th Anniversary of Independence, Barbados would indeed become a republic, and that the office of Governor General would be replaced by that of a President, who would be chosen by an electoral college comprising both Houses of Parliament. She also announced that immediately after independence, Barbados would seek to make amendments to the constitution that would reflect its new status.
September 20 — the Constitution (Amendment) Bill 2021 was introduced to the Parliament of Barbados. Among other things, this bill changed references to the Governor General in the Constitution to President, transferred the powers to the Governor General to the President, and outlined how Presidents would be elected.
October 20 —The House of Assembly and the Senate meet in a joint session at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre to vote on the now former Governor General, Dame Sandra Mason, becoming the President of Barbados. Opposition Senator Caswell Franklyn, objects to some aspects of the procedure and walks out of the meeting. After his departure, the remaining Members of Parliament and Senators vote and Dame Sandra Mason officially is elected the first President of Barbados. (DH)
This article appears in the November 29 edition of the Independence publication. Read the full publication here