New Jamaica Prime Minister Pushes For Republic

Portia Simpson Miller, Jamaica’s first female Prime Minister, was sworn in on Thursday and quickly pledged to ease its deep poverty, boost the  economy, heal political divisions and sever colonial-era links with Britain.

This year, Jamaica will celebrate 50 years of independence but it still retains Queen Elizabeth II as its head of state.  Simpson Miller wants to change this. Speaking to 10,000 guests at the residence of the Governor-General she said, “I love the Queen. She’s a beautiful lady,” before adding in Patois, “But I think time come.”

This reflects an accelerated move towards republicanism among Commonwealth Carribean nations. Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago have both dropped the Queen as head of state, while opting to remain in the Commonwealth.

One of the key issues has to do with ‘judicial surveillance’ from London. Currently the judicial committee of the privy council (JCPC), the high court of appeal sits in London. It, for example, has been blocking attempts to have the death penalty enforced. In a country with high crime the option of the death penalty as a form of punishment is becoming increasingly popular.

This week Simpson Miller vowed to introduce reforms to make the Caribbean court of justice the final appeal court in all criminal matters. The move would repatriate Jamaica’s sovereignty fully, she said.

Having won an overwhelming 2-1 majority she has the power to change the constitution and make some of the changes she is pushing for. However, for republicanism to take place, it would have to go down to a popular referendum and that is not clear cut. She is genuinely popular but voters are fickle.

How successful her attempt for this push is, will depend on how she tackles the other more urgent issues such as high unemployment. If she is seen to making headway on those, then she will fancy her chances in a referendum.

We think Jamaica’s push for self-determination is long overdue. Or a country with such a strong heritage and having been independent for so long, it should be able to call its own shots on various matters.

Otherwise, as long as head of state and your highest court of appeal sit in another country, you are still a colony.