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:
— Kevz Politics (@KevzPolitics) October 20, 2021
Opposition Senator Caswell Franklyn walked out of this morning’s joint sitting of Parliament after objecting to the nomination of Governor General Dame Sandra Mason as Barbados’ first President on Independence Day. pic.twitter.com/MFqMeEh0cQ
— Barbados Today (@BarbadosToday) October 20, 2021
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:
I really dont understand the fuss about the election of the president of Barbados. It makes sense for Dame Sandra Mason to become president. ?
— Jay White (@QueenLici) October 21, 2021
Caswell won today because he managed to make today about him despite the fact that all those who were present for the vote voted in favour of the election of Dame Sandra Mason as the first President of Barbados.
— Roshanna Trim (@RoshannaTrim) October 20, 2021
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:
Dame Sandra Mason x Mia Mottley:
The President and Prime Minister of Barbados.
— Dionne Grant (@DionneGrant) October 20, 2021
Some netizens didn't see the point:
If you are getting rid of the queen as a ceremonial head of state
What is the point of replacing her with another ceremonial head of state?
What purpose will a Barbadian president with zero powers to do anything serve?
Genuine question here.
— kevin o'brien chang (@kevinobriencha1) October 21, 2021
— Marsha Caddle (@MarshaCaddle) October 21, 2021
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.
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:
Congrats to the people of Barbados who’ve successfully repatriated their sovereignty w/the election of 1st Bajan President, Dame Sandra Mason, as Head of State, an achievement skillfully guided by their transformational leader, PM @miaamormottley
Come on Jamaica, Let’s do this! https://t.co/QcsFJuaurS
— Mark Golding (@MarkJGolding) October 21, 2021
Opposition parliamentarian Lisa Hannah added:
There’s nothing as powerful as an idea whose time has come.
True empowerment for people comes when they embrace their individual identity and have the courage to rely on themselves rather than be beholden to another with dominion over them.
— Lisa Hanna (@LisaHannamp) October 20, 2021
It remains to be seen which, if any, of its CARICOM neighbours who are still part of the Commonwealth realm, will follow Barbados’ lead.