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Commonwealth support for monarchy waning under King Charles III, polling shows

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Commonwealth Games assessing host options after Victoria withdrawal

The end of Queen Elizabeth II’s 70-year reign — one year ago today — reverberated around the world. While many joined the UK in mourning, for some her death provoked questions of constitutional change.

The Commonwealth is a “voluntary association of 56 independent and equal countries.” Although rooted in Britain’s colonial past, it is today widely regarded as a driver of democracy and development.

Recognising the British monarch as head of state is optional, and nowadays only a minority of members do.

On the eve of King Charles III’s Coronation in May, polling by Lord Ashcroft found many of these countries would vote to become republics if a referendum were held tomorrow.

This result is indicative of the loosening links between members in the 21st century, with even the future of the Commonwealth Games now under threat.

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Sprawling over a quarter of the world’s landmass and counting just under a third of its population, at 2.5 billion people, the Commonwealth has a combined GDP of £11trillion – smaller only than the US and China.

At a summit five years ago, the late Queen made it known she wanted her son to succeed her in the role of head of the Commonwealth upon her death – a wish not a single member opposed.

The transition to the Carolean era opened with a display of unity – with 33 members represented in the Coronation military parade – but agitation has been brewing for years.

Only a minority of the 56 Commonwealth countries still recognise the British sovereign as their head of state – and the number is falling as the King Charles III era begins.

Dating back to 1926, membership initially entailed pledging allegiance to the British sovereign. After India – the group’s most populous member – opted to become a republic after independence in 1947, the requirement was dropped.

Today, King Charles III is the head is state of just 15 Commonwealth realms: Antigua and Barbuda, Australia, the Bahamas, Belize, Canada, Grenada, Jamaica, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, the Solomon Islands, Tuvalu and the UK. While five others have their own monarch, the rest are republics.

According to Lord Ashcroft, if a referendum were held tomorrow, the republican vote would win out in six of these countries – notably by a 24 percent margin in Canada and seven percent in Australia.

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The pollster claimed focus groups in the countries regularly heard that the monarchy was “at odds with what people considered their inclusive and egalitarian national character.”

This sentiment has already borne consequences. In February, the Australian central bank announced the King would not feature on its new five-dollar notes. In July, the state of Victoria announced it was pulling out of hosting the 2026 Commonwealth Games, citing greater financial needs elsewhere.

The monarchy’s increasingly undeniable association with the history of slavery and colonialism is also a factor, especially in the Caribbean.

A royal visit to the islands by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (now the Prince and Princess of Wales) – infamous for a poorly orchestrated shot of the couple shaking hands with Jamaican locals through a chain-linked fence – drew crowds of protesters demanding an apology and reparations for the monarchy’s role in the slave trade.

In Jamaica – where respondents told Lord Ashcroft the fact that they were ruled by their former colonial masters yet still needed a visa to enter the UK added insult to injury – the republican vote was found to have a nine-point lead.

Only five countries have ever taken the extra step of leaving the Commonwealth altogether – three of which since rejoined.

Ireland was the first, cutting ties with the dwindling Empire with which it shared a bloody history back in 1949. South Africa withdrew in 1961 amid criticism over apartheid but rejoined in 1994. Pakistan’s military coup in 1999 saw them suspended until 2004, and again between 2008 and 2009. The Maldives left in 2016 – the most recent country to do so – but rejoined four years later.

In 2003, Zimbabwe’s long-term autocrat Robert Mugabe pulled his country out after the group suspended its membership over suspected election rigging.

Other countries without strong historical ties to the UK have opted to join the Commonwealth. Cameroon and Mozambique – formerly under French and Portuguese rule respectively – both acceded to the group in 1995.

A former colony of Germany and Belgium, Rwanda was admitted in 2009 despite the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) finding its state of governance and human rights to be substandard.

The most recent countries to join were Gabon and Togo, two former French dependencies, doing so in June 2022.

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