Republics in the Commonwealth of Nations

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The Commonwealth republics, shown in pink

A republic in the Commonwealth of Nations is any one of the 32 sovereign states of the Commonwealth of Nations with a republican form of government. Though, with the exception of the former Portuguese possession of Mozambique and the former Belgian trust territory of Rwanda, they are all former British possessions, in contrast to the 16 Commonwealth realms they do not have Elizabeth II or another 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, but acts as a symbol of the free association of Commonwealth members.[1]

Twenty-nine of the republics are former British (or partly British) self-governing colonies, that have evolved into republics by various means. In most cases, the countries 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 1949, following the London Declaration made on 28 April of that year. 10 days before the declaration was made, 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 to soon become a republic; at the behest of Pakistan, 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] that 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 adopting a title to indicate sovereignty of their own respective nations (such as "Queen of Barbados", rather than "Queen of the United Kingdom"). With time, many Commonwealth realms moved to become 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 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 move to both independence and republican status has 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 or the members with their own monarchs (Brunei, Lesotho, Malaysia, Swaziland, and Tonga).

Membership of the Commonwealth is by common assent of the existing members, and this principle applies equally to territories gaining independence or 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 also.[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]

Member state Year of independence Republic created through Type of president First president
1  Cyprus 19601 New constitution Executive New appointment
2  Cameroon 19612 New constitution Executive New appointment
3  Samoa 19623 New constitution Ceremonial New appointment
4  Rwanda 19624 New constitution Executive New appointment
5  Zambia 1964 New constitution Executive Incumbent Prime Minister
6  Maldives 19655 Referendum (90% for republic) Executive New appointment
7  Singapore 19656 New constitution Ceremonial Incumbent Governor (as a state of Malaysia)
8  Botswana 1966 New constitution Executive Incumbent Prime Minister
9  Nauru 19687 New constitution Executive New appointment
10  Bangladesh 19718 New constitution Ceremonial New appointment
11  Mozambique 19759 New constitution Executive New appointment
12  Seychelles 1976 New constitution Executive New appointment
13  Dominica 1978 New constitution Ceremonial Incumbent Governor (interim)
14  Kiribati 1979 New constitution Executive Incumbent Chief Minister
15  Vanuatu 1980 New constitution Ceremonial New appointment
16  Namibia 199010 New constitution Executive New appointment

1. Cyprus became a member of the Commonwealth in 1961.
2. Cameroon became a member of the Commonwealth in 1995.
3. Samoa became a member of the Commonwealth in 1970, but its heads of state were originally two traditional chiefs, but was de jure a republic; after the death of the last traditional chief, the new head of state was chosen for a five-year term by Samoa's parliament.
4. Rwanda's independence as a republic was attained from Belgium in 1962. It became a member of the Commonwealth in 2009.
5. The Maldives became a republic in 1968 (prior to which it had been an independent sultanate), but had never been a member of the Commonwealth; the Maldives joined in 1982.
6. Singapore was formerly part of Malaysia.
7. Nauru became an independent republic in 1968, but did not become a full member of the Commonwealth until 2000.
8. Bangladesh was 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's independence as a republic was attained from Portugal in 1975. It became a member of the Commonwealth in 1995.
10. Namibia was formerly a League of Nations Mandated Territory administered by South Africa and continued to be de facto administrated by South Africa until independence.

Other republics in the Commonwealth[edit]

Member state Year of independence Became a republic Government type
1  Fiji 19701 1987 Parliamentary republic
2  Ghana 19571 1960 Unitary republic
3  Guyana 19661 1970 Unitary republic
4  India 19471 1950 Federal republic
5  Kenya 19631 1964 Presidential republic
6  Malawi 19641 1966 Unitary republic
7  Malta 19641 1974 Parliamentary republic
8  Mauritius 19681 1992 Unitary republic
9  Nigeria 19601 1963 Federal republic
10  Pakistan 19471 1956 Federal republic
11  Sierra Leone 19611 1971 Unitary republic
12  South Africa 19311 1961 Unitary republic
13  Sri Lanka 19481 1972 Unitary republic
14  Trinidad and Tobago 19621 1976 Unitary republic
15  Uganda 19621 1963 Presidential republic

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

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. The Commonwealth chose at the time to continue to regard it as a member. In 1949 Ireland proclaimed that it was a republic but no new Irish state was established. It was deemed by the Commonwealth to have ceased to be part of the Commonwealth. The same state established in 1937 continued in being. Hence Ireland did become a republic since independence and was a member of the Commonwealth but was never a Commonwealth republic.
  •  Zimbabwe, republic since 1980, left the Commonwealth in 2003.
  •  Gambia was a Commonwealth realm from 1965 until 1970, when it became a republic within the Commonwealth. The Gambia was withdrawn from the Commonwealth in October 2013 by Yahya Jammeh the Gambian president.

Potential republican candidates for the Commonwealth[edit]

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): pp. 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): pp. 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.