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The View From Jamaica: ‘I Can’t Stand the Thought That the Head of State is King Charles’

While millions of television viewers globally were transfixed by the pageantry of King Charles III’s coronation, lukewarm interest in the ceremony was the clearest sign yet that Jamaica’s nostalgic love affair with the royal family is over.

Veteran lawyer Hugh Small, a member of the 15-person constitutional reform committee charting Jamaica’s transition to a republic, is impatient to ditch the monarchy.

“I can’t stand the thought that the head of state of Jamaica is King Charles III. We tolerated it long enough, and now the public conscience has raised to a boiling point, I’m very anxious to see it go,” said Small, 81, before the coronation.

“The acceptance [Jamaicans] had towards Queen Elizabeth has not been transferred to Charles. He is not a very endearing person. It makes it really difficult for me and for a lot of people in Jamaica to think that Charles III is king of Jamaica.”

Small recalls being a high school boarder when King George VI died in 1952 and was succeeded by his daughter Elizabeth. The attorney remembered some schoolmates, whom he refers to as “sons of the plantocracy”, crying as they listened to an address by the headteacher.

However, Small insists that affection for the queen, who visited Jamaica six times during her 70-year reign, will not be inherited by Charles.

Small, who was appointed queen’s council in 1985 and was called to the bar 60 years ago, has long held anti-royalist views. He made headlines last year when he recorded himself setting three of his judicial wigs ablaze in his opposition to the UK-based privy council’s status as Jamaica’s final appellate court.

The government has opted not to include the appellate court’s status on the agenda of the constitutional reform committee, saying there is no political consensus on the matter.

But Small views the privy council as incompatible with the vision of republicanism.

“I think that it would be inconsistent with our status as a republic to be going to the court of King Charles of Britain to ask for a little bit of justice. We need to end that relationship as quickly as possible,” said Small.

Expat Devon Green, a Jamaican living and workingin London since 2000, believes that the newly minted king “is less loved by the British people”.

People protesting against the visit of the then Duke and Duchess of Cambridge to Kingston, Jamaica, last year.
People protesting against the visit of the then Duke and Duchess of Cambridge to Jamaica last year. Photograph: Ricardo Makyn/AFP/Getty

Green, 55, said that the Windrush scandal and perceived racism towards the Duchess of Sussex have hardened his disapproval of the monarchy, which has refused to apologise for its role in slavery.

“Many, if not all immigrants, would share my view. The monarchy does not serve the interests of the masses and has, over hundreds of years, exploited people and countries within the Commonwealth and further afield, enriching the institution.”

The broadcaster Fae Ellington, who has covered at least six royal visits to Jamaica, – by Queen Elizabeth, then Prince Charles, Princess Anne, Prince Harry and then William and Kate – believes that the soap opera-style conflicts of the royal family have deepened Jamaicans’ antipathy towards the monarchy.

She has criticised the monarchy’s “rigid, unnatural lifestyle” and its manoeuvres to protect its image.

However, Ellington argues that there are more fundamental issues at the root of the disconnect between Jamaicans and a monarchy they view as archaic, illegitimate and immoral.

“The display of wealth and privilege for the coronation, much of which was stolen, directly or indirectly, from colonies like Jamaica, suggests that there still isn’t even a vague understanding or acceptance of the injustices meted out by the monarchy to people who were enslaved and colonised,” said Ellington.

“Most Jamaican young people are over the monarchy. They want a head of state with whom they can identify – race, colour, culture, and circumstances,” Ellington said.

Public support for the abandonment of the monarchy has gathered steam in Jamaica. A Don Anderson opinion poll in 2022 showed that 56% of Jamaicans were in favour of dismantling the constitutional monarchy, a leap up from the 44% recorded in 2012.

The move to jettison the monarchy appears to have accelerated since the queen’s death and eastern Caribbean neighbours Barbados’s transition to a republic in 2021.

David Salmon, Jamaica’s 2023 Rhodes Scholar, was the island’s flag-bearer at the coronation ceremony. The 22-year-old was proud to be part of the historic event but wants Saturday’s coronation to be the last one in which Jamaica participates as a Commonwealth realm. Jamaica has telegraphed that it is likely to maintain its membership in the 56-nation Commonwealth bloc even if it cuts ties with the monarchy.

“I think this event can be a watershed moment where we can transform our relationship with the United Kingdom, and that is something both myself and my peers are interested in seeing,” Salmon said.

Unlike Barbados, Jamaica requires a referendum to cut ties with the monarchy. Legislation must be tabled in the House of Representatives for a minimum of three months before the debate starts, then progressing to the Senate. The administration of prime minister Andrew Holness is eyeing full ratification by 2025. However, various lobbies have argued that the tight deadlines for the reform committee would allow for only a superficial review of the constitution, robbing the country of sufficient time for public education and meaningful consultation.

One contentious element of the new republic is whether the president should have executive power or merely play a ceremonial role like the governor general who represents the monarch.

Salmon would want the Jamaican president to be empowered to, among other things, submit legislation to the courts to test its constitutionality upon advice from a qualified body. He does not believe in having a political representative serve as both Jamaica’s head of state and head of government.

“For instance, I would not want the political directorate to possess the ability to make executive decisions, assent to legislation, grant clemency to incarcerated individuals, and also make appointments to various commissions. These are powers that a prospective executive president would have in Jamaica if we were to merge the functions of the office of the prime minister and the governor general,” he said.

Source: The Guardian

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