KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent, November 25, 2009 (AMG) — The people of St. Vincent & the Grenadines will today decide whether to replace the island’s constitution, which has been in place since gaining independence from the United Kingdom in 1979.
If approved, the new constitution will abolish the island’s monarchy, removing Queen Elizabeth II as head of state and replacing her with a non-executive president nominated by both political parties. The charter will also establish a Court of Appeals to replace the British Privy Council, which remains the highest appeals court in the island.
Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves and his ruling United Labour Party has campaigned heavily in favour of constitutional reform along republican lines, going so far as to promise a public holiday if the referendum succeeds.
Speaking to the Trinidad Express, Gonsalves said: “I find it a bit of a Nancy story that the Queen of England can really be the Queen of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines”. The opposition New Democratic Labour Party (NDP), though also in favour of a republican system, is opposing the selection of a president by parliament and insists that the office should be filled by a nationally elected candidate.
The opposition further argues that the new constitution will do nothing to reduce the power of the Prime Minister or to strengthen the country’s democracy, claiming that the proposed charter does not go far enough to rework the mandate of the Integrity Commission, Human Rights Commission, the office of the Ombudsman and the Electoral and Boundaries Commission. Fringe groups in the island have gone further to oppose the new constitution, arguing that it will bring “communism” to St. Vincent & the Grenadines.
The referendum requires a two-thirds majority vote for passage and will be observed by missions from CARICOM and the Organisation of American States. There are 97,000 registered voters, with an undetermined number of people who have died or moved away on the electors list.
Queen Elizabeth II is coincidentally on a rare trip to the region to open the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Trinidad & Tobago on November 27, in her capacity as head of the Commonwealth.
Update: The referendum was defeated by a significant margin in results announced at 2230.