Republics in the Commonwealth of Nations

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The republics in the Commonwealth of Nations, shown in red

The republics in the Commonwealth of Nations are the sovereign states in the organisation with a republican form of government. As of June 2022, 36 out of the 56 member states were republics. Elizabeth II, who is the reigning monarch in the Commonwealth realms, is also still the titular Head of the Commonwealth (but not the head of the members of the Commonwealth) in a personal capacity. This role does not carry with it any power; instead, it is a symbol of the free association of Commonwealth members.[1]

Except for Gabon, the former Portuguese possession of Mozambique and the former Belgian trust territory of Rwanda, and Togo, they are all former British (or partly British) colonies or self-governing colonies that have evolved into republics. Most of the Commonwealth's members achieved independence while keeping the British monarch as their own individual head of state (in a form of personal union) and later became republics within the Commonwealth by abolishing the monarchy. In some other instances, the countries became republics after achieving independence from other former British colonies (as, for example, Bangladesh did from Pakistan in 1971 as a result of the Bangladesh Liberation War).


Republics have been permitted as members of the Commonwealth since the London Declaration made on 28 April 1949. Ten days before that declaration, the Republic of Ireland had been declared, ensuring most of Ireland's self-exclusion from the Commonwealth as republics were not allowed in the Commonwealth at that time (Northern Ireland, as part of the United Kingdom, remained within the Commonwealth). The Republic of Ireland did not re-apply for membership of the Commonwealth, despite being eligible to do so under the London Declaration.

The declaration was made by India to allow it to continue its membership of the Commonwealth despite its decision, implemented on 26 January 1950, to adopt a new Constitution and become a republic, abolishing the monarchy. Thus, India became the first republic within the Commonwealth. This set a precedent that all other countries were free to follow, as long as they each recognised the position of Head of the Commonwealth. A compromise between the Indian government and those, such as Jan Smuts,[2] who wished not to allow republics membership, the Declaration read:

The Government of India have ... declared and affirmed India's desire to continue her full membership of the Commonwealth of Nations and her acceptance of the King as the symbol of the free association of its independent member nations and as such the Head of the Commonwealth.[1]

Following their independence from the United Kingdom, most Commonwealth countries retained Queen Elizabeth II as head of state, who was represented in the country by a Governor-General. The monarch adopted a title to indicate the individual sovereignty of each of these nations (such as "Queen of Barbados"). With time, many of these countries became republics, passing constitutional amendments or holding referendums to remove the monarch as their head of state, and replacing the governor-general with an elected or appointed president. This was especially true in post-colonial Africa. Most African realms became republics within a few years of independence. As of 2021, there are 15 states headed by Queen Elizabeth II, which are known as Commonwealth realms.

Commonwealth republics usually followed the presidential system. Some states became parliamentary republics, such as Malta or Fiji. In Fiji, the change to a republic in 1987 came as a result of two military coups, rather than out of any popular republican sentiment.

Even when Fiji was not a member of the Commonwealth, symbols of the monarchy remained, including the Queen's portrait on banknotes and coins; and, unlike in the United Kingdom, the Queen's Official Birthday is a public holiday. When Fiji was readmitted to the Commonwealth, the issue of reinstating the Queen as head of state was raised, but not pursued, although the country's Great Council of Chiefs reaffirmed that the Queen was still the country's "Paramount Chief".

Some republics within the Commonwealth became republics on gaining independence from the United Kingdom; again, this was particularly true in Africa.

While the moves to both independence and republican status have broken the remaining constitutional links to the United Kingdom, a number of Commonwealth countries have retained a right of appeal directly to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council; for example, Mauritius, and (if the case involves constitutional rights) Kiribati. In contrast with Commonwealth realms and British Overseas Territories, however, such appeals are made directly to the Judicial Committee, rather than formally being made to "Her Majesty in Council".

Commonwealth membership[edit]

Within the Commonwealth, there is no differentiation in status between republics, Commonwealth realms and the members with their own monarchs (Brunei, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malaysia, and Tonga).

Membership of the Commonwealth is by common assent of the existing members, and this principle applies equally to territories gaining independence from the UK and to outside territories requesting membership. Until 2007, Commonwealth members that changed their internal constitutional structure to that of a republic had to re-apply for membership.[3] Widespread objection to the racial policies in South Africa resulted in that country deciding not to pursue a re-application for Commonwealth membership when it became a republic in 1961. South Africa was subsequently readmitted as a member of the Commonwealth after democratic elections in 1994. Fiji and the Maldives also did not apply for continued membership after becoming republics (Fiji was likely to be suspended in any case, since a coup had overthrown the democratically elected government), and thus their membership lapsed too.

Current republics in the Commonwealth[edit]

In some countries that became republics some time after independence, including Malta, Mauritius, and Trinidad and Tobago, the new office of president was a ceremonial post, usually held by the last governor-general, each respective country being a Parliamentary republic. In others, such as Gambia, Ghana, and Malawi, the presidency was an executive post, usually first held by the last prime minister, with each respective country being a Presidential republic. In the latter cases, not only was the monarchy abolished, but so was the entire Westminster system of parliamentary government as well.

List of republics[edit]

Republics since independence[edit]

In each case, the republic was created through a new constitution.

Member state Year of
Year of
Type of
First president Notes
 Cyprus 1960 1961 Executive New appointment
 Cameroon 1960 1995 Executive New appointment Independent from France since 1960
 Gabon 1960 2022 Executive Incumbent Prime Minister Independent from France since 1960
 Togo 1960 2022 Executive Incumbent Prime Minister Independent from France since 1960
 Samoa 1962 1970 Ceremonial New appointment
 Rwanda 1962 2009 Executive New appointment Independent from Belgium since 1962
 Zambia 1964 Executive Incumbent Prime Minister
 Maldives 1965 1982 Executive New appointment
 Singapore 1965 Ceremonial Incumbent Governor
(as a state of Malaysia)
Formerly part of Malaysia from 1963 to 1965, when Singapore was expelled from Malaysia.
 Botswana 1966 Executive Incumbent Prime Minister
 Nauru 1968 2000 Executive New appointment Became an independent republic in 1968, albeit, with special membership of the Commonwealth of Nations until 2000
 Bangladesh 1971 1972 Ceremonial New appointment Formerly East Pakistan (1955–1971), previously a part of India as East Bengal.
Upon independence it became part of Pakistan as part of the Partition Plan in 1947.
 Mozambique 1975 1995 Executive New appointment Independent from Portugal since 1975
 Seychelles 1976 Executive New appointment
 Dominica 1978 Ceremonial Incumbent Governor (interim)
 Kiribati 1979 Executive Incumbent Chief Minister
 Vanuatu 1980 Ceremonial New appointment
 Namibia 1990 Executive New appointment Formerly a League of Nations Mandated Territory administered by South Africa.
Continued to be de facto administered by South Africa until independence as South West Africa.

Other republics in the Commonwealth[edit]

Member state Year of
Became a
First president
 Barbados 1966 2021 Parliamentary republic Incumbent Governor-General
 Fiji 1970 1987 Parliamentary republic Incumbent Governor-General
 Gambia 1965 1970 Presidential republic Incumbent Prime Minister
 Ghana 1957 1960 Presidential republic Incumbent Prime Minister
 Guyana 1966 1970 Parliamentary republic Incumbent Governor-General (interim)
 India 1947 1950 Parliamentary republic New appointment
 Kenya 1963 1964 Presidential republic Incumbent Prime Minister
 Malawi 1964 1966 Presidential republic Incumbent Prime Minister
 Malta 1964 1974 Parliamentary republic Incumbent Governor-General
 Mauritius 1968 1992 Parliamentary republic Incumbent Governor-General (interim)
 Nigeria 1960 1963 Presidential republic Incumbent Governor-General
 Pakistan 1947 1956 Parliamentary republic Incumbent Governor-General
 Sierra Leone 1961 1971 Presidential republic Incumbent Governor-General (interim)
 South Africa 19101 1961 Parliamentary republic Incumbent Governor-General
 Sri Lanka 1948 1972 Semi-presidential republic Incumbent Governor-General
 Tanzania2 1961 1962 Presidential republic Incumbent Prime Minister
 Trinidad and Tobago 1962 1976 Parliamentary republic Incumbent Governor-General
 Uganda 1962 1963 Presidential republic New appointment
  1. The Union of South Africa was formed in 1910 as a semi-sovereign nation and associated state, then became fully sovereign in 1931 with the Statute of Westminster.
  2. The United Republic of Tanzania was formed in 1964 from the merger of Tanganyika, which had gained independence in 1961 and became a republic in 1962, and Zanzibar, which had gained independence in 1963.

Republics formerly in the Commonwealth[edit]

Currently, the only former Commonwealth republics are:

  •  Ireland, also known as the Republic of Ireland, is a republic and a former member of the Commonwealth; however, it does not fit neatly into a category as such. In 1922, as the Irish Free State, it became a dominion in the British Commonwealth. In 1937, the present-day Irish state, officially called Ireland, was established. Its Constitution established it as a de facto republic with little reference to a monarchy but equally no reference to a republic either (see Irish head of state from 1936 to 1949 for further discussion on this ambiguity). The Commonwealth chose at the time to continue to regard it as a member as the monarch (then King George VI) was still officially the head of state. In April 1949, following the passage of the Republic of Ireland Act 1948, it was deemed by the Commonwealth to be a republic and thus to have ceased to be part of the Commonwealth.
  •  Zimbabwe, a republic since 18 April 1980, left the Commonwealth in December 2003. Emmerson Mnangagwa and his government have applied for Zimbabwe to return to its membership of the Commonwealth.[4]

Eligibility of other republics to join the Commonwealth[edit]

  Commonwealth of Nations member states
  Commonwealth of Nations member state dependencies
  Applied or interested non-member states, some of them without historic constitutional association
  Non-member states that were British protectorates, colonies, mandates or under some other type of British administration

The 2007 Kampala review of the Edinburgh Declaration delimits the nations eligible for admission to the Commonwealth to those with "a historic constitutional association with an existing Commonwealth member, save in exceptional circumstances". Various republics have a historic association with the United Kingdom as being former British-administrated territories. The 2009 admission of Rwanda, which has no such association, was made under the "exceptional circumstances" proviso.[5]

The republics of South Sudan,[6] Sudan,[7] and Suriname[8] have formally made applications, while other republics have expressed interest.[9][10] The United States (Thirteen Colonies), Israel (Mandate for Palestine), Republic of Ireland (Irish Free State), and the Persian Gulf states, as former possessions of the British empire, are eligible for membership but have shown no interest.[11]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b de Smith, S.A. (July 1949). "The London Declaration of the Commonwealth Prime Ministers, April 28, 1949". The Modern Law Review. 12 (3): 351–354. doi:10.1111/j.1468-2230.1949.tb00131.x. JSTOR 1090506.
  2. ^ "1949–1999: Fifty Years of a Renewing Commonwealth". The Round Table. 88 (350): 1–27. April 1999. doi:10.1080/003585399108072.
  3. ^ "Membership of the Commonwealth: Report of the Committee on Commonwealth Membership". Commonwealth Secretariat. 2007. Archived from the original on 31 January 2008. Retrieved 2 September 2008.
  4. ^ "Zimbabwe officially applies to rejoin Commonwealth". Africanews. 21 May 2018. Archived from the original on 3 February 2020. Retrieved 3 February 2020.
  5. ^ "Rwanda: Joining the Commonwealth". The New Times. AllAfrica. 27 November 2009. Archived from the original on 1 December 2009. Retrieved 29 November 2009.
  6. ^ "South Sudan Launches Bid to Join Commonwealth". Archived from the original on 6 April 2020. Retrieved 15 February 2017.
  7. ^ Howden, Daniel (26 November 2009). "The Big Question: What is the Commonwealth's role, and is it relevant to global politics?". The Independent. London. Archived from the original on 19 January 2012. Retrieved 21 November 2017.
  8. ^ "Welcome to Allvoices". Archived from the original on 25 June 2013.
  9. ^ Howden, Daniel (26 November 2009). "The Big Question: What is the Commonwealth's role, and is it relevant to global politics?". The Independent. London. Archived from the original on 19 January 2012. Retrieved 21 November 2017.
  10. ^ Osike, Felix (24 November 2007). "Rwanda membership delayed". New Vision. Archived from the original on 23 January 2013. Retrieved 29 November 2009.
  11. ^ "Why the Commonwealth endures despite being written off by the left and the right". Archived from the original on 9 July 2021. Retrieved 7 July 2021.