By Javan Flowers
The Leader of the Opposition (LOO) Hon. Moses “Shyne” Barrow said that the decision to leave the Monarchy "should be a decision for Belizeans to make" via referendum, a process already mandated under section 22 of the People’s Constitution Commission (PCC) Act.
In Belize, citizens are ostensibly split between remaining under the monarchy and becoming a Republic, and given that the decision is emotionally charged, Barrow opined that such a decision should be realized by having a referendum and not leaving it to parliament.
In a press conference early this week, Barrow said, "The monarch should go. The discussion is how, and so that has to be done by referendum. I completely disagree with the [PM] of Belize saying that the House will make that decision; that is not a decision for the House of Representatives. As much as I would like for the Head of State to be the Prime Minister or President, whatever, the people will decide. I believe the monarch should have gone when we got our independence, but it did not happen that way, we are here now, and it is a decision that should be made at a referendum."
The PCC Act Guarantees a Referendum
Interestingly, section 22 of the People’s Constitution Commission (PCC) Act already mandates that there must be a referendum at the conclusion of the PCC’s consultation process with the Belizean people and after the final report has been submitted to the prime minister. The Act reads:
“A referendum shall be conducted where the National Assembly passes a resolution declaring that the matter stated in the report, whether the Belize Constitution should be repealed and replaced or amended, is of sufficient national importance that it should be submitted to the electors for their view through a referendum.”
Consequently, given the compulsory language of the PCC Act, the end of the Constitutional review must end with a referendum.
However, as The Reporter had previously reported in December 2022, there was concern about what exactly would go to said referendum, a matter previously highlighted by none other than the PCC’s Chairman Anthony Chanona.
While Chanona had publicly stated his concern regarding section 22 and other aspects of the Act, the Opposition—which has two primary representatives on the PCC—and other civil society actors have not publicly joined in the Chairman’s critique of the Act.
As pointed out in a December 2022 article by The Reporter, the general interpretation of that section suggests that only the recommendation to either amend or repeal and replace the existing Constitution could be put before the people of Belize. This, however, leaves unanswered the matter as to whom or which body shall be responsible for ultimately “translating” the contents of the PCC’s report into the draft text of the amended or new Supreme Law.
In that December 2022 interview with PCC Chairman Anthony Chanona, he said, “It should not be left in the realm of the political executive to interpret what is in the report. I think we could get into a political football and political mischief if that happens. Remember [around that time], we’d be pretty much close to the next general election.”
To address this gap in the law, Chanona had suggested that a remedy would be to amend section 23 of the Act in such a way as to allow the PCC to continue working until the referendum on a draft Constitution is concluded.
The law is also unclear when the public will be able to see the completed report and/or the draft text for the amended or new Constitution.
Chanona had also indicated to The Reporter that he would have sought the support of all Commissioners on the matters and that he would do his part to communicate the need for these changes to the government. “Nevertheless, we will work with what we have, but as we progress, I will try to impress on the powers that be that there is a need that these areas of the law be revisited,” said Chanona last year.
However, given that more than half a year has passed with the PCC’s work underway, it appears that no such amendment, as discussed by the PCC Chairman, is forthcoming.
Likely to Become a Republic
The discussion on the matter of the monarchy also received an extra impetus following Prime Minister Hon. John Briceño’s recent interview with United Kingdom Guardian's Oliver Laughland.
In the interview, Briceño said it was "quite likely" Belize would be the next member of the Commonwealth realm to become a republic.
Notably, a recent poll by Lord Michael Ashcroft revealed that 48% of Belizeans would vote to keep the Monarchy in a referendum, while 43% would vote to become a republic. Nine percent said they did not know or would not vote.