DISCLAIMER: I am a supporter of a New Zealand Republic if a binding referendum finds New Zealanders to be in favour.
When Peter Dunne made his valedictory speech today, several weeks after quitting Parliament, he advocated that New Zealand become a republic. Mr Dunne, who has been an advocate for constitutional reform for the duration of his time in Parliament, has triggered a divided reaction on social media.
The Stuff media item has a poll, that I read at the time of writing this article, showed a narrow lead in favour of a Republic. Commentary was as divided as it was often ill informed, with many people not being clear on how a republic works or even why they opposed one.
So, below I ask and answer some key questions about New Zealand and the Republic debate. The answers to all these questions and more can be found and explored in greater detail in:
Holden L.J., “The New Zealand Republic Handbook”, 2009
What is a Republic
A Republic is a style of governance where supreme power is reliant on the consent of the citizens it governs. There is no hereditary leader like in a Monarchy where succession is passed on down through a royal family. In a Republic the President is either directly elected (such as in the United States), or by an elected assembly.
What types of Republic are there?
There are several types of Republic, notably the Parliamentary Republic, Presidential Republic, Islamic Republic and Peoples Republic.
Perhaps the most famous is the Presidential Republic, which is the style of the United States, where the President is not only head of state, but also the chief decision maker. New Zealand, whilst not being one, is closest to the Parliamentary Republic in that there is already a Parliamentary structure in place, headed by the Prime Minister. The role of a President would be most likely to appoint/dismiss Governments, receive heads of state and – heaven forbid – declare war.
The other two Republic types that are well known are the Islamic Republic and the Peoples Republic. Iran is an Islamic Republic with a Supreme Ayatollah who is the head of state and has influence on the President of Iran. The final one is the Peoples Republic, which variously includes – but is effectively the same in function – the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea (North Korea), Democratic Republic of the Congo and the People’s Republic of China (China – not to be confused with Republic of China (Taiwan))
Will New Zealand have to leave the Commonwealth?
No. Numerous nations in the Commonwealth are Republics – Fiji, India, South Africa, to name just a few. As long as a member does the following it is a member of the Commonwealth:
- Recognize the Queen as head of the Commonwealth
- Respect the wishes of the people
- Respect human rights, liberty, rule of law and free and fair democratic elections
- Be a sovereign state
Why ditch the Monarchy if Republics are unstable?
Political instability generally has more to do with historical, social and economic circumstances rather than constitutional ones. Sierra Leone and Pakistan are Republics that started lives as unstable monarchies where coups were instigated before they became Republics.
Will the constitutional status of the Treaty of Waitangi be affected?
No. Responsibility will remain where it has been all the time: with Parliament and the Head of State, the only difference being a New Zealander would be head of state.