A few years ago I had a contentious discussion with some NDMers about constitutional reform. I argued that political formats similar to Jamaica’s had worked very well in countries like Australia, Barbados and Canada, so it didn’t make sense to blame all our problems on a faulty governmental system. They however maintained that Westminster was an outdated colonial relic and only with a modern separation of powers model could Jamaica make the adjustments necessary to compete in the modern globalized economy. The future, they claimed, lay in places like Argentina.


Well having descended into political anarchy, Argentina last month announced plans to scrap its discredited presidential system in favour of a parliamentary model. It seems Westminster and its derivatives are not quite so dead after all.


But then only the historically ignorant ever thought it was. For the separation of powers presidential model has never worked for any length of time except in the United States and Costa Rica. While Westminster in pure and modified forms has produced democratic continuity in all climates and regions, from Britain and Jamaica, to Sweden and Mauritius, to India and Israel.


Yes it is theoretically imperfect. But its faults seem to cancel each other out in practice. And while it does not always work, it certainly has produced more functioning democracies than any known alternative. To paraphrase Winton Churchill, the Westminster parliamentary model is the worst democratic system ever invented, except for all the others.


Indeed in terms of long term prosperity and stability, it can be plausibly argued that the best political system in the world is parliamentary constitutional monarchy. For this is the type of government found in the 5 highest ranked countries on the UNDP Human Development Index – Norway, Australia, Canada, Sweden and Belgium. And over the last 40 years only 16 countries of over a million people can claim to have held regular multi-party elections, remained assassination free, suffered no serious uprisings, adhered to the rule of law, and maintained a free press. They are Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, France, Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Holland, Finland, Norway, Japan, Switzerland, Costa Rica, and Jamaica. Ten of these have a monarch as head of state.


Though in strictly rational terms the idea of monarchy seems truly ridiculous nowadays, it is difficult to argue with facts. “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it” the old folks say. And from a strictly pragmatic view there would be little to gain and possibly much to lose if Jamaica become a republic anytime soon.


Of course based on the enthusiastic reception the queen received recently there is little chance of that happening in the near future. Any referendum would probably mirror the latest Stone polls and show a solid majority in favour of the monarchy. But then our politicians have never been able to agree on an acceptable alternative to the queen, which in itself tells a crucial story.


Ivory tower intellectuals who consider unproven speculation more important than historical reality can chatter all they want. But most people in this country clearly have no intention for now of abandoning a model which has given them four decades of precious democratic stability virtually unknown outside of Western Europe and North America. Flawed as our system is, over the past four decades it proven politically superior to any in Asia, Africa, or South America. Compared to Thailand, Cuba, Nigeria, or Peru for instance, independent Jamaica has been a democratic miracle.


Whatever other purpose she serves, the queen provides an official link with the wider world. And the general feeling is that while we have official ties with Britain there are certain lines that even our most power hungry politicians dare not cross. There will undoubtedly come a day when Jamaicans feel that having a British queen as our official head of state no longer benefits the nation. But for the moment the people clearly feel that, as one monarchist put it, “we no ready fe dat yet”. The fact is Jamaicans still don’t trust their elected politicians completely. And seeing the billions wasted on Finsac, Netserve, and Operation Pride, who can blame them?


Yet the feelings of those who see the queen as a racist colonial remnant are quite understandable. I myself am too young to have experienced them, but my father still talks bitterly of the condescending attitudes of Jamaica’s pre-independence rulers who took white and British superiority as a god given fact of life. To him and many others the queen is a symbol of Jamaican inferiority, for her very presence here seemed to say to the world that this black country still can’t do without a white mistress. And even though the British are now a lot less arrogant than they were when the sun never set on their empire, flashes of the old superciliousness still break through occasionally. On the last day of the queen’s visit for example, the British Daily Mail ran a full page story patronizingly headlined “Queen Brings Hope To a Land Ruled by Fear”.


Yet cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face usually brings grief. And while letting your real ruler be chosen merely by accident of birth is patent nonsense in this day and age, having a symbolic head linked by tradition to the nation’s entire past seems to provide a calming sense of continuity – the king is dead, long live the king. To the logical mind pomp and circumstance is an unnecessary waste of time and money. But human beings have never been completely rational creatures. And no coldly calculated cost and benefit analysis could fail to conclude that the ceremonial trappings of monarchy have in Jamaica’s case paid for themselves many times over in terms of the stability they have helped to provide.


Still, it is likely that Jamaica and most countries that swear allegiance to Queen Elizabeth - even perhaps Britain itself - will not be long in doing away with monarchical ties after she dies. But the British monarchy has over the years displayed a remarkable adaptability. Who knows, perhaps Prince William will marry a non-white girl and begin in the House of Windsor the same “brownifying” process that the earth’s overall population is undergoing. Can you imagine the fervour a black Princess of Wales or Queen Consort would arouse in Jamaica? It would probably set back the Republican cause here at least 50 years.

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