Republic Confusion in Belize

By Dylan Vernon, (PAST WORK #1, March 2022)

OBSERVING debates around whether Belize should become a republic, it’s clear that there is still a deep lack of understanding of the term itself. The tendency in Belize to place a negative spin on the term ‘republic’ persists – due, in part, to the often-ethnocentric association by some Belizeans of ‘republic’ with Latin American autocracies in the last century. 

So What is a Republic?

Let’s leave the other pro and con arguments aside for a minute and ask what really is a republic? In a basic civics class students (should) learn that a republic is a form of government in which the people and their elected representatives hold supreme power. So, monarchies and states that have a monarch as head of state (like Belize) are, by definition, not republics. In 2022, over 75% of all the independent states in the world are republics, including the United States, most of Europe, most of the Commonwealth and all of Latin America. Four of the 12 independent Commonwealth Caribbean states are republics, with Barbados being the newest republic in the region and the world in 2021.

Like Barbados, by simply replacing the British monarch with a selected Belizean as head of state, Belize would become a republic – while remaining in the Commonwealth. Now, when this happens, Belizeans would have to decide what kind of republic it wants to be. Just looking at bare essential elements, there are at least three sets of choices.

Forms of Republics

We could choose to become a parliamentary republic which basically means that apart from replacing the British monarch as head of state with a Belizean, the system of legislature-led government we have would remain as is. This is the case with of the republics of Barbados, Dominica and Trinidad and Tobago.

Another choice would be for Belize to become what is called a presidential republic in which a president is elected as head of state directly by the people and shares power with a legislature. The United States and most Latin American states are presidential republics.

Then there are hybrid republics that can take several forms, but often characterised by having both a president (as head of state) and a prime minister – and sometimes with some degree of proportional representation in the electoral system. The French Republic and the Co-operative Republic of Guyana can be called hybrid republics.

What Matters are Governance Outcomes

While the term ‘republic’ is not in itself negative or positive, there are alternative formulations with differing features that Belize can choose or create for its particular context.   The differing features determine a lot — such as the powers of the head of state vs those of legislatures.

In short, republics are not good or bad in themselves. What matters is governance performance and outcomes – and these do vary in different republics. Indeed, they vary no matter what kind of system of government a state has. So, let’s not attack the term ‘republic’ itself in our national debate on whether we will become one. Let’s ask instead what kind of republic we want and why

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