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Commonwealth Realm

A Commonwealth realm is any one of the 16 sovereign states that recognize Queen Elizabeth II as their Queen and head of state. In each state she acts as the monarch of that state regardless of her other roles. For example, in Canada she is known as "Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, Queen of Canada" or simply, the Queen of Canada. (See List of Royal Titles of Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom)

Upon the advice of the nations' prime ministers, the Queen appoints a Governor-General to represent her as the de facto Head of State during her absence. The governor-general in turn exercises the powers of a constitutional monarch with a few symbolic, figurehead duties.

Fifteen of the nations are all former British colonies that became independent countries either after the ratification of the Statute of Westminster in 1931, the collapse of the Federation of the West Indies in 1961, or at later dates, the latest being Saint Kitts and Nevis in 1983. Papua New Guinea was administered by Australia as an international trusteeship before independence in 1975. For historical information see also Dominion.

Table of contents
1 Countries currently Commonwealth Realms
2 Countries formerly Commonwealth Realms
3 Rise of Republicanism
4 Related pages
5 External Links

Countries currently Commonwealth Realms

The Commonwealth Realms are a part of, but should be distinguished from, the Commonwealth of Nations which is an organization of mostly former British colonies, the majority of whom do not recognize The Queen as head of state.

Commonwealth Realms are:

Flags of The Queen in Commonwealth Realms

In her capacity as Queen of different Commonwealth Realms, Her Majesty does not use the British Royal Standard, but instead uses either her flag for that realm, or her personal flag as Head of the Commonwealth, which is also used when visiting Commonwealth countries where she is not recognised as Head of State.

Queen of Malta's Flag 1967
The Queen has flags for Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Jamaica and Barbados. Each is a banner of the country's coat of arms, with the royal cypher in the centre, with the letter 'E' for 'Elizabeth'. The Queen formerly had flags for Sierra Leone, Malta, and Trinidad and Tobago, but when these countries became republics, they became obsolete.

Flags of Governors-General

Governor-General of Malta's
Flag 1964-1974
Similarly, the
Governor-General has his or her own flag featuring the Royal Lion and Crown (The Saint Edward's Crown), with the name of the country written in capitals on a scroll underneath. The Governor-General of Canada has a distinctive design, which features the Royal Lion with the Saint Edward's Crown, bearing a maple leaf.

Countries formerly Commonwealth Realms

Following their independence from Britain, most Commonwealth countries retained The Queen as head of state, but eventually changed the title of the monarch to the Sovereign of their own respective nations. (i.e. The Queen of Australia, The Queen of Canada etc...) In each realm the monarch is represented by a Governor-General, a Governor or a Lieutenant Governor.

With time, some Commonwealth Realms moved to become republics, passing constitutional amendments removing the monarch as their head of state, and replacing the Governor-General with an elected or appointed president. This was especially true in post-colonial Africa, whose leaders often did not want to "share" the office of Head of State with the Queen. They remained within the Commonwealth, following the precedent set by India in 1950, recognising the British monarch as 'Head of the Commonwealth', but not as head of state. Previously, republican status was incompatible with Commonwealth membership, prompting Ireland to withdraw from the association on becoming a republic in 1949.

In some former Commonwealth realms, including Malta, Trinidad and Tobago, and Mauritius, the office of President was a ceremonial post, but other countries, such as Ghana, Malawi and Gambia, the President was an executive post, held by the last Prime Minister.

However, in Fiji, the change to a republic in 1987 came as a result of a military coup, rather than out of any republican sentiment, as Fiji's indigenous chiefs had voluntarily ceded their country to the Crown. Even when Fiji was not a member of the Commonwealth, symbols of the monarchy remained, including the Queen's portrait on banknotes and coins, and, unlike in the United Kingdom, the Queen's Official Birthday is a public holiday. When Fiji was readmitted to the Commonwealth, the issue of reinstating the Queen was raised, but not pursued, although the country's Council of Chiefs reaffirmed that the Queen was still the country's 'paramount chief'.

1. Presidency is ceremonial post.
2. Presidency is executive post.
3. Presidency originally ceremonial, now executive.
4. Presidency replaced office of Governor-General, but Republic not declared until 1949.

Rise of Republicanism

In recent years, there has been some debate within the remaining Commonwealth Realms about the continuing pratice of sharing a monarch with the United Kingdom. While many seem to view the Queen's current role as Head of State with passive indifference, others view the Queen as an obstacle to true "independence" from the United Kingdom.

While the Queen's powers in Commonwealth Realms are limited to appointing the Governor-General (and even this is done on the advice of the prime minister), her name and image continue to play a prominent role in political institutions and symbols. For example, the Queen's image usually appears on coins and banknotes, and an oath of allegiance to her is usually required from politicians, judges, and new citizens. Opponents argue that these symbolic gestures make an independent nation look "subsidiary" to the United Kingdom, and are confusing and anachronistic. Proponents argue that argue that their respective realm is already an independent nation, and that the monarchy with its history and traditions are the basis for their national identity.

There are several solutions as advocated by republicans, but two are generally most favoured. One solution is the Direct Election method to replace the monarchy with a presidency similar to that of the United States or France and Germany. Another is the \Appointment method which involves abolishing the monarchy, and replacing the Monarch and Governor General with a symbolic president, who would perform many of the same symbolic duties.

Those advocating change have pointed out that the majority of Commonwealth countries have long since become republics, and that were their countries to do the same, they could still be part of the Commonwealth of Nations. The Commonwealth is in fact now overwhelmingly dominated by republics.

Historically, Commonwealth Realm proponents of the monarchy were generally supportive of the monarchy as a symbolic link to the United Kingdom. With the ending of final consitutitional ties to the United Kingdom (especially in Canada and Australia) in the 1980s, came with it less proponent focus on the ties to the United Kingdom. Proponents of the monarchy then began to downplay the British symbolic aspect of the monarchy, and began to focus on the Queen's role as Head of State over an independent Commonwealth Realm.

Supporters of the monarchy argue that a republican head of state would cost more, not less, than the current monarchy. They point to the presidencies of the United States and France which cost more to maintain than their monarchies. They cite the additional costs involving in updating the governor-general's residences to full head of state presidential palace level, the costs of state visit, political advisors, increased ceremonial functions, etc, functions that in many cases do not exist for a governor-general, given that they are not a full head of state, but which would be required for a president.

Most realms have both a Republican Movement and a Monarchist League that serve as a self-proclaimed official outlet of debate in the media and press.

Establishing republicanism in the remaining realms is often hampered in large part because of previous long disputes over constitutional issues and reforms (especially in Canada and to some extent after the republican debate in Australia), a reluctance to enter into the extensive constitutional renegotiation that would be required to establish a new political system.

In Australia, Labor Prime Minister Paul Keating made clear his intention to make the country a republic by 2001. Following the holding of a Constitutional Convention in 1998, a referendum was held in 1999 on replacing the Queen as head of state with a President indirectly elected by Parliament. This was rejected because of divisions over how the future President should be elected, with some advocating direct election. It is likely that there will be another referrendum on the issue in the future.

In neighbouring New Zealand, Prime Minister Helen Clark and her predecessor James Bolger, have also voiced their support for republicanism, and a republican movement has been established. There have also been doubts expressed about the future role of the monarchy in Canada with some members of the governing Liberal Party pledging support for a republic, but there has been little sign of change in the immediate future.

In the Caribbean, P.J Patterson, the Prime Minister of Jamaica, and Owen Arthur, the Prime Minister of Barbados also plan to make their countries republics, replacing the Queen with a ceremonial president.

Related pages

External Links

[in alphabetical order]



New Zealand