December 4

Barbados: a blank cheque on the Constitution?



It is interesting to see the devious manoeuvres some politicians will indulge in to get what they want. A constitution is the basic law of a country; in a democracy it is the way in which the people have agreed to be governed. You would think, then, that a government would always be open and transparent with the opposition, the media and above all with the people concerning any proposal which it has to change the Constitution.

This is particularly so in those countries where the people are not entrusted with the decision to change their Constitution.We have just seen an egregious example of a republican government refusing to reveal any of the details of the changes it proposes before the people are called on to vote in a sham plebiscite. 

The Deputy Prime Minister of Barbados, Mia Mottley, announced on a radio panel discussion on sovereignty broadcast on 27 November, 2007 on the Caribbean Broadcasting Corporation that a plebiscite (she called it a “referendum”) will be held on a republic at the same time as the next general election. This is apparently due in the next nine months.  If the plebiscite passes, legislation can only pass if it has the support of two thirds of the membership of each of the Houses of the Parliament of Bermuda.In January 2005, Prime Minister Owen Arthur promised Barbadians a “referendum” on whether to retain or remove The Queen of Barbados.

 But as we understand a referendum, the details of any change proposed are put on the table before the people vote. The Barbadian government is trying to reverse this. The Barbadian people are first to vote, and only then, will they be allowed to see the details. They are being asked for a constitutional version of the blank cheque. Such plebiscites were often used in nineteenth century France to install or to confirm a dictatorship or authoritarian government. That is why the Australian Founders decided on the Swiss style referendum. This is where the people see all the details before they vote. Australia’s republican movement hates this – the cat is out of the bag before the people make their decision.  What wise people the Australian Founders were. They knew the sort of devious people go into politics.

The question typically asked in a plebiscite  – the sort of plebiscite the Australian Founders were determined to protect the Australian people against –  is usually designed by spin doctors to gather the highest vote.  The Barbadian question is not yet known, but let us hope that the Barbadian Government will not keep that a secret too. Otherwise there can be no vote.  It is rumoured that the question will be: "Do you believe Barbados should have a Barbadian as its head of state?"  This sounds similar to the question which Australian republicans push, which of course ignores the fact that the term “head of state” is not a term of Australian or , as far as I can see, Barbadian constitutional law. 

 Let’s get one thing clear. “Head of State” is a diplomatic term governed by international law. It has nothing to do with the Constitution of Australia or Barbados. That said, the Australian High Court did use the term “constitutional head of state” to describe the Australian governors. That was not as a term of art, just as a descriptor. And that was as long ago as 1907.   In any event, a governor-general is, under international law, a head of state. The Governor-General of Barbados, His Excellency, Sir Clifford Straughn Husbands, GCMG, KA, QC, is a distinguished Barbadian lawyer. Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, The Queen of Barbados is as Barbadian as She is, say, Canadian.

If the plebiscite question is as is rumoured, an affirmative answer would in no way constitute a mandate for unknown republican changes to the Barbadian Constitution.  Barbadians already have a Barbadian as head of state. An affirmative answer would only confirm the status quo. 

So why doesn’t the Barbadian republican government come out and say it wants a republic with a president,  how this president will be elected and what are to be his powers?  Why doesn’t the Barbadian government ask the people whether they want yet another politician?

 Probably for the same reason that Australia’s republicans wanted two words removed from the 1999 referendum question. One was “President.”  The other, believe it or not was “republic.”  Even Australia’s press, campaigning vigorously for a republic, could not stomach that. But clearly, polling and focus groups had told Australia’s republicans that these words were on the nose with Australians.   

Asked to explain why the Barbadian government had not consulted the Opposition, the Deputy Prime Minister said "These are decisions made by the executive." She is not talking about some administrative measure; this is the supreme law of Barbados.  Asked why the government was hiding the details of what it proposed to do from the media, and the people, the Deputy Prime Minister said the Government felt it "presumptuous to so do in the absence of a determination on the Republic".  

I cannot recall a more ridiculous or unacceptable justification for government secrecy. Just what is it in the republican constitution that has persuaded the government to keep it under wraps? The Barbadian media and people would be justified in being highly suspicious of the government’s intentions, and reacting accordingly.  As one of our highly regarded Australian commentators said at the time of the 1999 referendum: “If you don’t know, Vote No.” 

Perhaps Barbadian constitutionalists might adopt this as their campaign motto.“If you don’t know, Vote No.”      

Harold Schmauz, co-ordinator of the Melbourne based Monarchist Alliance has posted this comment on the Barbadian situation:

 Republicans are braggarts. All the time and everywhere.   Do you need proof?  Here is the latest example for my assertion. When republicans live in a Monarchy and work for its destruction, they claim the “vast majority” does not identify with the institution, the Monarchy is old fashioned and outdated, and nobody is interested in the Royal Family and their duties. 

But when it comes to a referendum to introduce a republic, the great reformers suddenly shriek off and turn frightened to use the “r”-word. After all, it IS a frightful word connected with lots of atrocities throughout its history of the past 229 years. What do republicans do when they call for a referendum, when they try to avoid the simple question: “Do you want a Monarchy or a republic?”? They use a manipulative trick which indicates that they aren’'t very certain about their cause:  A perfidious question because it infers that everyone who votes NO and who wants to retain the Monarchy was Un-Barbadian, anti-national, unpatriotic. 

The proposed question is far from a being a fair question if the Barbadians want the Monarchy or a republic. It does not address what relationship there should be between the people of Barbados and the Crown, but it is pure and unashamed populism. It is malicious. How will the Monarchists of Barbados lead their campaign for a “foreign Head of State”. Even though the Queen of Barbados is no foreigner, but as Barbadian as any other Barbadian, the supporters of the Monarchy will have a hard time to organise a referendum campaign. 

Once again this example shows that republicans  refer to referenda won by republicans as fair and open (Italy 1946 or Greece in 1973/74), however, in cases where the Monarchists won, they were manipulated (Australia 1999, Spain 1947, Greece 1935 and again 1946). 

Republicans are bad losers. And never fair players, I may add.

Harold Schmauz




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