Jamaica will transition from a Constitutional Monarchy to a Parliamentary Republic by the next general election, which is constitutionally due in 2025.
This is according to Minister of Legal and Constitutional Affairs, Marlene Malahoo Forte.
She gave the timeline on Tuesday during her contribution to the Sectoral Debate in the House of Representatives.
“The goal is to ultimately produce a new Constitution of Jamaica, enacted by the Parliament of Jamaica, to, inter alia, establish the Republic of Jamaica as a parliamentary republic, replacing the Constitutional Monarchy, and affirming our self-determination and cultural heritage,” Malahoo Forte said.
“I am pleased to advise this Honourable House that the work to achieve this goal, while being done in stages, has formally commenced,” she added.
A significant majority of Jamaicans want the country to ditch the Queen as head of State, and those arguments have gained momentum since Caribbean neighbour Barbados did just that last November when it transitioned to a republic.
Malahoo Forte told the House that to get the work done, she is in the process of establishing a Constitutional Reform Committee, which will have at least two members of the parliamentary Opposition on board.
“There are many steps to be taken between now and the tabling of a new constitution. I will advise when the committee is fully constituted,” the minister said.
“It is my intention, in leading the process, to work assiduously before the Parliament, unless, of course, something more pressing happens to overtake for the start of the next session,” she said while pointing out that the aim is to get the work done in time for the next session “so that the steps can be taken in time for the next general election”.
Malahoo Forte explained that a session is defined to mean, in relation to the House of Representatives, the sitting of that House when it first meets after the prorogation of Parliament. She explained further that there are certain rules around what is done within a session of Parliament and what goes on between sessions.
“I have set out the work to be done by the committee in very broad terms, specifying, inter alia, that it will involve, at this stage, the conduct of a thorough and comprehensive review of the 1962 Constitution, including the 2011 Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedom, as well as recommendations for reform made through the various constitutional reform commissions and committees in the past, to ultimately implement an ambitious reform agenda, settled by consensus,” Malahoo Forte said.
She reiterated that the Queen can only be removed as head of State if there is a two-thirds majority vote of all members of the House and Senate. The matter must also be put to the Jamaican people by way of a referendum.
Malahoo Forte highlighted that the Jamaica Labour Party Government, with its vast majority of 49 seats, can secure the required two-thirds majority vote of 41 of the 63 votes in the House of Representatives. However, it needs the support of one member of the Opposition to secure the required two-thirds margin in the Senate.
Meanwhile, the minister noted that there are important substantive and procedural issues to be resolved to ensure a smooth transition to a republic.
“Each recommendation that I have looked at will require both careful thought as well as substantial resources to implement successfully. To further the process of moving from recommendations to action I propose to appoint a Constitutional Reform Committee to include representatives from the Government, Parliamentary Opposition, relevant experts and the wider society,” she shared.
She said the reform work will involve a thorough and comprehensive review of the 1962 Constitution of Jamaica, “as we have to determine the extent to which the existing structure of government ought to be modified or preserved”.
“In the same way that for very practical purposes all that existed prior to Independence could not be got rid of, we cannot now get rid of all that we have. The same dilemma that was faced then between the desire for change and the necessity for continuity is being faced now.
“Jamaica boasts a high degree of stability in its democracy which should never be taken for granted,” Malahoo Forte said.