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Elect the Governor-General
One way to create a republic is to elect the Governor-General first, then hold a referendum to make the Governor-General New Zealand's head of state. The next representative of the Queen in New Zealand will need to be appointed sometime in 2011. In many ways, the office of Governor-General fulfills the role of head of state. However, the Governor-General is still only the representative of the Queen. One way to simplify the transition to a republic would be to first elect the Governor-General.
Why elect the Governor-General?
The Governor-General has the power to:
- Appoint and fire Governments, Prime Ministers and their Cabinets;
- Call early general elections;
- Potentially refuse Royal assent, that is, signing a Bill of Parliament into law.
The person holding the office should be elected and accountable. An interim option on the road to becoming a republic might be to elect the next Governor-General and begin the transition to a republic only when the Queen's reign ends. Electing the Governor-General would make the transition to a republic easier as the public would become familiar with electing a ceremonial head of state. It would also give New Zealanders time to decide on what the head of state might be called or how they would be elected.
This option would require an Act of Parliament to amend the Constitution Act. 1986 As it would be a notable change, it would be more acceptable to the public if a three-quarters or two-thirds majority of votes were needed to pass it.
Sir Anand Satyanand, New Zealand's current Governor-General. His term ends in 2011.
When the current Governor-General was appointed, all of the party leaders in Parliament supported his appointment. Under the elected Governor-General option, it is expected that future candidates would enjoy similar levels of support. A process for nominating the candidates would have to be created so that voters had a good choice of suitable candidates.
The idea of an elected Governor-General was first proposed by Sir George Grey (twice Governor of New Zealand and once Premier) in the draft of the New Zealand Constitution Act 1852. The Colonial Office did not like the idea, as it would mean they could not control who became the Governor.
Sir George tried again then later in a Members Bill in Parliament, presented and defeated in 1887. Political commentator Colin James made a similar suggestion again in 2006.
Two other Commonwealth members already elect their Governor-General, Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands. The transition of the Irish Free State is an example of how the process was used in the transition to a republic.
The Irish Free State was established in 1922 and, like New Zealand, had its own Governor-General. The Irish nationalists did not support this, so when King Edward VIII abdicated the throne in 1936, the Irish Government amended the Irish Free State's Constitution, removing references to the King. Another Act in 1937 formally abolished the office of Governor-General, pending replacement with an Irish head of state. In 1938 the Irish parliament appointed the first President of Ireland.
The Ireland retained the British Monarch as the King of Ireland. The country held the first presidential election in 1945, but remained a monarchy until the approval of a new constitution in 1949. Ireland then became known as the Republic of Ireland, and the transition to a republic was complete.
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- Tell us who you think New Zealand's next Governor-General should be
- Read our submission to the Law Commission on reforming the Governor-General's appointment and dismissal (Civil List Act 1979)
- Read our Amended Governor-General Bill
- Read our submission to the select committee on the Governor-General Bill
- Website of the Governor-General
- Colin James: Election: the democratic way to select our Governor-General - article from the New Zealand Herald
- Noel Cox: Governor-General role needs update: New Zealand Herald article in response to Colin James
- Constitution (Election of Governor-General) Amendment Bill