Republics in the Commonwealth of Nations

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The Commonwealth republics, shown in red

The republics in the Commonwealth of Nations are the sovereign states of the Commonwealth of Nations with a republican form of government. As of May 2017, there are 31 of these. In contrast to the 16 Commonwealth realms, they do not have Elizabeth II or any other monarch as their head of state. Elizabeth II is still the titular Head of the Commonwealth in a personal capacity, but this role does not carry with it any power; instead, it is a symbol of the free association of Commonwealth members.[1]

Except for the former Portuguese possession of Mozambique and the former Belgian trust territory of Rwanda, they are all former British (or partly British) colonies or self-governing colonies that have evolved into republics. Most of them achieved independence as Commonwealth realms and later became republics within the Commonwealth. In some instances, the countries became republics after achieving independence from other former British colonies (as Bangladesh did from Pakistan in 1971).


Republics have been allowed as members of the Commonwealth since the London Declaration made on 28 April 1949. Ten days before that declaration, the Republic of Ireland had been declared, ensuring Ireland's self-exclusion from the Commonwealth as republics were not allowed in the Commonwealth at that time. Ireland did not re-apply for membership of the Commonwealth, despite being eligible to do so under the London Declaration.

The declaration was made by India to allow it to continue its membership of the Commonwealth despite its decision, implemented on January 26, 1950, to adopt a new Constitution and become a republic, abolishing the monarchy. Thus, India became the first republic within the Commonwealth. This set a precedent that all other countries were free to follow, as long as they each recognised the position of Head of the Commonwealth. A compromise between the Indian government and those, such as Jan Smuts,[2] who wished not to allow republics membership, the Declaration read:

The Government of India have ... declared and affirmed India's desire to continue her full membership of the Commonwealth of Nations and her acceptance of the King as the symbol of the free association of its independent member nations and as such the Head of the Commonwealth.[1]

Following their independence from the United Kingdom, most Commonwealth countries retained Elizabeth II as head of state; the Monarch adopted a title to indicate sovereignty of each of these nations (such as "Queen of Barbados"). With time, many Commonwealth realms became republics, passing constitutional amendments or holding referendums to remove the monarch as their head of state, and replacing the Governor-General with an elected or appointed president. This was especially true in post-colonial Africa. Most African realms became republics within a few years of independence, and usually followed the presidential system. Some states became parliamentary republics, such as Malta or Fiji.

In Fiji, the change to a republic in 1987 came as a result of a military coup, rather than out of any popular republican sentiment. Even when Fiji was not a member of the Commonwealth, symbols of the monarchy remained, including the Queen's portrait on banknotes and coins; and, unlike in the United Kingdom, the Queen's Official Birthday is a public holiday. When Fiji was readmitted to the Commonwealth, the issue of reinstating the Queen as Head of State was raised, but not pursued, although the country's Great Council of Chiefs reaffirmed that the Queen was still the country's "Paramount Chief".

Some republics within the Commonwealth became republics on gaining independence from the United Kingdom; again, this was particularly true in Africa.

While the moves to both independence and republican status have broken the remaining constitutional links to the United Kingdom, a number of Commonwealth countries have retained a right of appeal directly to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council; for example, Dominica, Mauritius, and (if the case involves constitutional rights) Kiribati. In contrast with Commonwealth realms and British overseas territories, however, such appeals are made directly to the Judicial Committee, rather than formally being made to "Her Majesty in Council".

Commonwealth membership[edit]

Within the Commonwealth, there is no differentiation in status between republics, Commonwealth realms and the members with their own monarchs (Brunei, Lesotho, Malaysia, Samoa, Swaziland, and Tonga).

Membership of the Commonwealth is by common assent of the existing members, and this principle applies equally to territories gaining independence from the UK and to outside territories requesting membership. Until 2007, Commonwealth members that changed their internal constitutional structure to that of a republic had to re-apply for membership.[3] Widespread objection to the racial policies in South Africa resulted in that country deciding not to pursue a re-application for Commonwealth membership when it became a republic in 1961. South Africa was subsequently readmitted as a member of the Commonwealth after democratic elections in 1994. Fiji and the Maldives also did not apply for continued membership after becoming republics (Fiji was likely to be suspended in any case, since a coup had overthrown the democratically elected government), and thus their membership lapsed too.

Current republics in the Commonwealth[edit]

In some former Commonwealth realms, including Malta, Trinidad and Tobago, and Mauritius, the new office of President was a ceremonial post, usually held by the last Governor-General, each respective country being a Parliamentary republic. In others, such as Ghana, Malawi and Gambia, the Presidency was an executive post, usually first held by the last Prime Minister, with each respective country being a Presidential republic. In the latter cases, not only was the monarchy abolished, but so was the entire Westminster system of parliamentary government as well.

List of Commonwealth republics[edit]

Former Commonwealth realms[edit]

Republics on independence[edit]

In each case the republic was created through a new constitution.

Member state Year of
Year of
Type of
First president Notes
1  Cyprus 1960 1961 Executive New appointment
2  Cameroon 1961 1995 Executive New appointment
3  Rwanda 1962 2009 Executive New appointment Independent from Belgium from 1962
4  Zambia 1964 Executive Incumbent Prime Minister
5  Singapore 1965 Ceremonial Incumbent Governor
(as a state of Malaysia)
Formerly part of Malaysia
6  Botswana 1966 Executive Incumbent Prime Minister
7  Nauru 1968 2000 Executive New appointment Became an independent republic in 1968
8  Bangladesh 1971 Ceremonial New appointment Formerly East Pakistan (1955–1971), previously a part of India as East Bengal.
Upon independence it became part of Pakistan as part of the Partition Plan in 1947.
9  Mozambique 1975 1995 Executive New appointment Independent from Portugal since 1975
10  Seychelles 1976 Executive New appointment
11  Dominica 1978 Ceremonial Incumbent Governor (interim)
12  Kiribati 1979 Executive Incumbent Chief Minister
13  Vanuatu 1980 Ceremonial New appointment
14  Namibia 1990 Executive New appointment Formerly a League of Nations Mandated Territory administered by South Africa.
Continued to be de facto administrated by South Africa until independence.

Other republics in the Commonwealth[edit]

Member state Year of
Became a
First president
1  Fiji 19701 1987 Parliamentary republic Incumbent Governor-General
2  Ghana 19571 1960 Presidential republic Incumbent Prime Minister
3  Guyana 19661 1970 Parliamentary republic Incumbent Governor-General (interim)
4  India 19471 1950 Parliamentary republic New appointment
5  Kenya 19631 1964 Presidential republic Incumbent Prime Minister
6  Malawi 19641 1966 Presidential republic Incumbent Prime Minister
7  Malta 19641 1974 Parliamentary republic Incumbent Governor-General
8  Mauritius 19681 1992 Parliamentary republic Incumbent Governor-General
9  Nigeria 19601 1963 Parliamentary republic Incumbent Governor-General
10  Pakistan 19471 1956 Parliamentary republic Incumbent Governor-General
11  Sierra Leone 19611 1971 Presidential republic Incumbent Governor-General
12  South Africa 19311 1961 Parliamentary republic Incumbent Governor-General
13  Sri Lanka 19481 1972 Parliamentary republic Incumbent Governor-General
14  Tanzania n/a2 n/a2 Presidential republic New appointment
15  Trinidad and Tobago 19621 1976 Parliamentary republic Incumbent Governor-General
16  Uganda 19621 1963 Parliamentary republic New appointment

1. Gained independence as a Commonwealth realm before becoming a republic at a later date.

2. The United Republic of Tanzania was formed in 1964 from the merger of Tanganyika, which had gained independence as a Commonwealth realm in 1961 before becoming a republic in 1962, and Zanzibar, which had gained independence in 1963 and remained a Sultanate until 1964.

Republics formerly in the Commonwealth[edit]

Currently, the only former Commonwealth republics are:

  •  Ireland is a republic and a former member of the Commonwealth; however, it does not fit neatly into a category as such. In 1922, as the Irish Free State it became a Dominion in the British Commonwealth. In 1937, the present-day Irish state, Ireland was established. Its constitution established it as a de facto republic with little reference to a monarchy but equally no reference to a republic either (see Irish head of state from 1936 to 1949 for further discussion on this ambiguity). The Commonwealth chose at the time to continue to regard it as a member as the Monarch was still the head of state. In 1949, following the passage of the Republic of Ireland Act 1948, it was deemed by the Commonwealth to be a republic and thus have ceased to be part of the Commonwealth.
  •  Zimbabwe, republic since 1980, left the Commonwealth in December 2003.
  •  Gambia was a Commonwealth realm from 1965 until 1970, when it became a republic within the Commonwealth. Yahya Jammeh, the former Gambian president, withdrew the country from the Commonwealth in October 2013. However, newly elected president Adama Barrow has pledged to bring The Gambia back into the Commonwealth.[4] The Gambia is in the process of returning to its membership in the Commonwealth.
  •  Maldives became a republic in 1968, prior to which it was an independent sultanate from 1965 to 1968; became a republic within the Commonwealth on 9 July 1982. Maldives withdrew from the Commonwealth on 13 October 2016.[5]

Eligibility of other republics to join the Commonwealth[edit]

  Commonwealth of Nations member states
  Commonwealth of Nations member state dependencies
  Applied or interested non-member states, some of them without historic constitutional association
  Non-member states that were British protectorates, colonies, mandates or under some other type of British administration

The 2007 Kampala review of the Edinburgh Declaration delimits the nations eligible for admission to the Commonwealth to those with "a historic constitutional association with an existing Commonwealth member, save in exceptional circumstances". Various republics have a constitutional association with the United Kingdom as being former British-administrated territories. The 2009 admission of Rwanda, which has no such association, was made under the "exceptional circumstances" proviso.[6]

The republics of South Sudan[7], Sudan[8], and Suriname[9] have formally made applications, while other republics have expressed interest.[10][11]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b de Smith, S.A. (July 1949). "The London Declaration of the Commonwealth Prime Ministers, April 28, 1949". The Modern Law Review. 12 (3): 351–4. doi:10.1111/j.1468-2230.1949.tb00131.x. JSTOR 1090506. 
  2. ^ "1949–1999: Fifty Years of a Renewing Commonwealth". The Round Table. 88 (350): 1–27. April 1999. doi:10.1080/003585399108072. 
  3. ^ "Membership of the Commonwealth: Report of the Committee on Commonwealth Membership". Commonwealth Secretariat. 2007. Retrieved 2008-09-02. 
  4. ^ "Gambia's Jammeh loses to Adama Barrow in shock election result". BBC News. 2 December 2016. Retrieved 3 December 2016. 
  5. ^
  6. ^ "Rwanda: Joining the Commonwealth". The New Times. AllAfrica. 27 November 2009. Retrieved 29 November 2009. 
  7. ^ "South Sudan Launches Bid to Join Commonwealth". 
  8. ^ Howden, Daniel (26 November 2009). "The Big Question: What is the Commonwealth's role, and is it relevant to global politics?". The Independent. London. 
  9. ^ "Welcome to Allvoices". Archived from the original on 2013-06-25. 
  10. ^ Howden, Daniel (26 November 2009). "The Big Question: What is the Commonwealth's role, and is it relevant to global politics?". The Independent. London. 
  11. ^ Osike, Felix (24 November 2007). "Rwanda membership delayed". New Vision. Archived from the original on 23 January 2013. Retrieved 29 November 2009.