‘Self governance is self love': Barbados elects first local head of state on journey to becoming a republic

Dame Sandra Mason, president-elect of Barbados. Screenshot taken from the YouTube video ‘Profiles in Excellence – Her Excellency Dame Sandra Mason, GCMG, D.A., Q.C.’, via the We Gatherin’ Barbados YouTube channel.

Making good on its intention, declared just over a year ago, to sever colonial ties with the United Kingdom by removing Queen Elizabeth II as head of state and becoming a republic, Barbados elected its first president on October 20, after members of the country's lower and upper house of parliament met to vote on the matter during a special sitting. Prime Minister Mia Mottley called the move a “seminal moment.”

The proposed candidate, Dame Sandra Mason, who is Barbados’ current governor-general and was jointly nominated for the post by Prime Minister Mia Mottley and Leader of the Opposition Joseph Atherley, was elected by more than a two-thirds majority in each house:

While the vote in the lower house was unanimous, the senate had one unreturned ballot—that of Opposition Senator Caswell Franklyn, who objected to the procedure involved in the presidential election:

Franklyn's objection seemed to revolve around the fact that the ballot papers did not provide an option to register a “no” vote. He also claimed that the process was “rushed”, accusing the government of “amending the old British constitution [and] calling it a republican constitution”:

If you want to become a republic, publish a republican constitution, have a Barbados Constitution Act and everything flows from there. You put the president in place under a British statute.

Senate President Reginald Farley, however, deemed all documentation and procedures valid.

Mason, now 72 years old, was the first woman attorney to receive her Bachelor of Laws degree from the University of the West Indies’ Hugh Wooding Law School in 1973. Over the course of her career, she has prioritised her professional development, completing courses in judicial administration and dispute resolution. She has worked in the financial sector, in private practice and as an ambassador, eventually being appointed chief magistrate and registrar of the Supreme Court of Barbados, before becoming governor-general.

Her impressive resume prompted one Twitter user to say:

Another suggested:

Dame Mason will make history come November 30, Barbados’ Independence Day, when she will be formally installed as the country's first-ever local head of state—and most social media users seemed happy about it:

Some netizens didn't see the point:

For many others though, including Minister of Parliament Marsha Caddle, it was an issue of identity:

On Instagram, Caddle explained:

Today, in the year 2021, decolonization is still a word that has to exist, to mean the process of systematically removing one country's supremacy over another.

Colonies. Still. Exist. We may call them Overseas Territories or Overseas Departments, but they are colonies. Entire countries owned and governed by others. I believe it is absolutely a country's right to determine whether and how that status will change. And I respect the choice and national governance systems of all countries, including our neighbours in this region, who remain at different points in that conversation.

Nine Caribbean Community (CARICOM) territories, including Barbados, still recognise the queen as head of state.

Caddle continued:

I was overjoyed that Barbados said ‘as for me and my house, we will govern ourselves’. As a child, I was disturbed by the notion of an independent nation swearing to a queen. So too was I to be sworn in as a Minister of ‘the Crown’. So I am thrilled that such oaths will not be made by those who follow.

We have a good relationship with the British monarchy. Long may it continue, as equals.

Congratulations to our incoming President Dame Sandra Mason.

Other regional territories, some of which still recognise the queen as head of state, took notice. Jamaica's opposition leader, Mark Golding, tweeted:

Opposition parliamentarian Lisa Hannah added:

It remains to be seen which, if any, of its CARICOM neighbours who are still part of the Commonwealth realm, will follow Barbados’ lead.

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