The British Empire is a little smaller now Barbados has left its colonial* past behind and appointed a president of the Caribbean island nation.
Following her election by parliament, Barbados Governor-General Dame Sandra Mason was officially sworn in as the country’s first president on Monday night local time, ushering in a new era and formally separating the country’s governance from the British Crown.
After receiving the required two-thirds majority vote from the Barbadian Houses of Parliament in October, she now replaces Queen Elizabeth II as the head of state, ending Britain’s nearly 400-year reign over the island.
President Mason’s inauguration* ceremony included military parades and celebrations, with Prince Charles — heir to the British throne — looking on. Barbados-born pop star Rihanna also attended the inauguration, where she was honoured as a national hero.
In a speech delivered at the transition* ceremony, Charles focused on continued ties between the two countries.
“As your constitutional status changes, it was important to me that I should join you to reaffirm those things which do not change. For example, the close and trusted partnership between Barbados and the United Kingdom as vital members of the Commonwealth,” reads an excerpt of his speech, as released by the prince’s office.
The dawn of a new era has fuelled debate among the population of 285,000 over Britain’s centuries of influence, including more than 200 years of slavery until 1834, and Barbados finally becoming independent in 1966.
In September 2020, Mason pursued plans to declare Barbados a republic, stating: “Barbadians want a Barbadian head of state”.
“As a young girl, when I heard about the Queen, I would be really excited,” said Sharon Bellamy-Thompson, 50, a fish vendor* in the capital Bridgetown, who remembers being about eight and seeing the monarch on a visit.
“As I grow older and older, I started to wonder what this queen really means for me and for my nation. It didn’t make any sense,” she said. “Having a female Barbadian president will be great.”
Australia currently operates under a constitutional monarchy model – that is, the Queen is Australia’s head of state and the Governor-General is the Queen’s representative in Australia. Next in line to the throne is Prince Charles, who will succeed Queen Elizabeth II to become king and Australia’s head of state.
Australians last voted on becoming a republic in a referendum* on November 6, 1999. Despite polls consistently suggesting then and now that a majority of Australians are in favour of having an Australian head of state, the yes vote was defeated.
The 1999 referendum presented voters with two questions, which commentators and republicans have argued confused voters. The first question asked voters to endorse* a particular model for electing a head of state – in this case proposing a president via a two-thirds majority in parliament, rather than by a popular vote by the people. Voters were not asked whether or not they were in favour of Australia becoming a republic. The second question – which was also defeated – was about inserting a preamble* into the constitution.
Referendums do not often succeed in Australia – historically less than one in five have passed. The Prime Minister at the time was John Howard, who was strongly against Australia becoming a republic and was criticised for complicating the terms of the referendum. No referendum has succeeded without the support of the incumbent* Prime Minister and sitting government.
Over the course of its history, the Australian Republican Movement (ARM) has brought together such diverse characters as former Labor Prime Minister Bob Hawke and former Liberal Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who headed the ARM at the time of the referendum.
Australia’s constitution can only be changed with a “double majority”, which means any referendum must win the approval of a majority of voters in a majority of states.
Since the establishment of the Commonwealth of Australia on 1 January 1901, 42 referendum questions have been put to the people and only eight have passed. Five of the 34 unsuccessful questions won a majority of votes but failed to win a majority of states. Current chair of the ARM is the author and journalist Peter FitzSimons.
Additional reporting by AFP
- colonial: relating to a colony, a place controlled by a separate, more powerful country
- inauguration: formally admission of someone to office
- transition: process or period of changing from one condition to another
- vendor: seller, salesperson, trader, dealer
- referendum: event in which the people vote for or against a specific issue
- endorse: support, view favourably, declare approval
- preamble: introduction, preface, prologue
- incumbent: holder, bearer, occupant of a certain office or position
- Who is the first President of Barbados?
- How long has Britain reigned over the island?
- How long did the enslavement of Barbadians last under British rule?
- When was the last time Australians had a republican referendum?
- Who is Australia’s head of state?
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1. Persuasive writing
Do you think that Australia should become a republic like Barbados?
Write a persuasive essay putting forward your opinion, along with the reasons for your position. Your aim is to convince your audience of your point of view.
Time: allow 30 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English; Civics and Citizenship
If Australia was to hold another referendum to decide whether or not to become a republic, how do you think the question should be worded to ensure that it is not confusing for voters? Carefully draft your version of the question. Then pair up with a partner and compare your questions. Did you both write the same thing? Discuss your wording and then refine your question together so that it is as clear as it can be.
Time: allow 10 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English; Civics and Citizenship
Imagine you were there during the event being discussed in the article.
Create a conversation between two characters from the article – you may need or want to include yourself as one of the characters. Don’t forget to try to use facts and details from the article to help make your dialogue as realistic as possible.
Go through your writing and highlight any punctuation you have used in green. Make sure you carefully check the punctuation used for the dialogue and ensure you have opened and closed the speaking in the correct places.