Barbados has elected its first-ever president to replace Britain’s Queen Elizabeth as head of state, in a decisive step toward shedding the Caribbean island’s colonial past.
Sandra Mason was elected late on Wednesday by a two-thirds vote of a joint session of the country’s House of Assembly and Senate. In a statement, the government called her appointment a milestone on its “road to republic.”
A former British colony that gained independence in 1966, the nation of just under 300,000 had long maintained ties with the United Kingdom’s monarchy.
But many Barbadians have long agitated to remove the Queen’s status – and with it, the lingering symbolic presence of imperialism over its governance. Multiple leaders this century have proposed that the country become a republic.
That will finally happen on November 30, the country’s 55th anniversary of independence from Britain, when Mason will be sworn in.
A former jurist who has been governor-general of the island since 2018, Mason was also the first woman to serve on the Barbados Court of Appeals.
Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley called the election of a president “a seminal moment” in the country’s journey.
“We have just elected from among us a woman who is uniquely and passionately Barbadian, does not pretend to be anything else (and) reflects the values of who we are,” Mottley said after Mason’s election.
Several countries dropped the Queen as head of state in the years after they gained independence, with Mauritius the last to do so, in 1992. That makes Barbados the first country in nearly three decades to drop the monarch.
The Queen is still head of state in more than a dozen other countries that were formerly under British rule, including Australia, Canada, New Zealand and Jamaica.
Wazim Mowla of the Atlantic Council think tank told Reuters the election could benefit Barbados both at home and abroad.
The move makes Barbados, a small developing country, a more legitimate player in global politics, Mowla said, but could also serve as a “unifying and nationalistic move” that may benefit its current leadership at home.
“Other Caribbean leaders and their citizens will likely praise the move, but I don’t expect others to follow suit,” Mowla added. “This move will always be considered only if it is in the best interest of each country.”
Mottley said the country’s decision to become a republic was not a condemnation of its British past.
“We look forward to continuing the relationship with the British monarch,” she said.