Barbados is set to become a republic, replacing Queen Elizabeth II as its head of state and severing centuries-old ties with the British crown on the 55th anniversary of the Caribbean nation’s independence from the United Kingdom.
The UK’s Prince Charles arrived in Barbados late on Sunday as the country prepares to replace the Queen with Sandra Mason, a former governor-general who also will serve as the island’s first president.
The move will not have major effects on the country’s international relations, as the queen’s position as head of state has been symbolic.
The role that Mason, who was elected last month by a joint session of the country’s House of Assembly and Senate, takes up will also be largely ceremonial, behind Prime Minister Mia Mottley.
But supporters of the transition say removing the British queen as Barbados’s head of state sends a powerful message – and further distances the island from the colonial system that previously ruled over it.
“Tonight’s the night!” read the front-page headline of Barbados’ Daily Nation newspaper.
A celebration including Barbadian music and dance will begin at 8pm local time (00:00 GMT), with Mason to be inaugurated just after midnight – coinciding with Barbados Independence Day on Tuesday.
The move to republicanism – which local leaders described as the “next logical step toward full sovereignty” – was announced last year during the annual Throne Speech.
“The time has come to fully leave our colonial past behind,” said Mason, who delivered the speech on behalf of Mottley in her then-role as governor-general. “Barbadians want a Barbadian head of state.”
In the capital Bridgetown, Barbadians have been preparing celebrations for their new republic, with Prince Charles, heir to the British throne, expected to deliver a speech stressing that warm relations between the island and the UK would continue despite the constitutional change.
“I am happy. We are on our own now with no king or queen from England,” Nigel Mayers, 60, who sells oranges in the city centre, told the Reuters news agency. “This is the full drop after independence.”
Barbados will remain a republic within the Commonwealth, a grouping of 54 countries across Africa, Asia, the Americas and Europe.
But its withdrawal from the monarchy will bring the number of Commonwealth realms – countries that continue to have the queen as their head of state – to 15, including Jamaica, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea.
The last country to ditch the crown was the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius in 1992.
Experts have said Barbados’s move may fuel republicanism in other commonwealth realms, especially in Jamaica, where the two main political parties support breaking away from the monarchy completely.
Joe Little, the managing editor of the London-based Majesty Magazine, said Barbados’s decision was a “natural progression” of a trend that started with Queen Elizabeth’s reign in 1952.
“I think inevitably it’s one that will continue, not necessarily in this current reign but in the next – and probably accelerate,” he told the AFP news agency.
An island of nearly 300,000 people, Barbados gained independence from the United Kingdom in 1966.
The country had been under British control since the 1620s, as British settlers turned it into a sugar colony dependent on the labour of thousands of enslaved Africans until emancipation in 1834.
That brutal history in Barbados and other Caribbean islands has spurred calls for reparations from the UK.
But the COVID-19 pandemic has dealt a blow to Barbados’s economy, which is dependent on tourism, and some residents say people are more concerned with that than the looming constitutional change.
“I think everybody is more concerned with their dollar today and what that means for tomorrow, especially with prices of things going up,” Laurie Callender, a 43-year-old information technology specialist, told Reuters. “People are more talking about that, in my opinion.”