Echoes of echoes

President Paula-Mae Weekes at the ceremonial opening of Parliament. - SUREASH CHOLAI
President Paula-Mae Weekes at the ceremonial opening of Parliament. - SUREASH CHOLAI

BY DEFINITION, ceremonial openings of Parliament are meant to be repetitive. They are echoes of the past, deliberately cultivated and carefully stage managed to convey a sense of tradition, continuity and stability.

But Monday’s ceremonial opening of Parliament took the repetition a little too far. It was an exercise that triggered such a strong sense of déjà vu it crossed the line into becoming irritatingly stale.

An exercise that was already on shaky ground – given a national mood informed by unacceptable levels of crime and the need for restraint in the use of scarce resources amid an ongoing pandemic – the opening came across as decadent and gratuitous because it served up nothing new.

Even President Paula-Mae Weekes’s turgid exhortation to MPs to work together and her call for a “different approach” was something we have heard before.

As usual, the reprimand managed to achieve what the President hoped for, though not in the way she meant: it unified both the Government and Opposition in their rejection of her disdain.

One side said our Parliament is relatively mild; the other said the Red House is no Bishop’s tea party.

The death of Queen Elizabeth II last week has triggered more than just an outpouring of grief.

Many – in the UK and elsewhere – feel the time is right for reflection on the role of the monarchy and a review of its workings as an institution, including the role it plays in the Commonwealth.

Perhaps it is also worthwhile for this country to consider, 60 years after independence, whether it is still worth holding on to colonial-era-inspired procedures and practices, such as the very ceremonial opening of Parliament which took place on Monday in the presence of the mace.

That ceremony harks back to the tradition in Britain of the monarch addressing the opening of Parliament. In modern times, the British government supplies the monarch with a prepared speech outlining the entirety of its legislative agenda. That does not occur here.

If all of the pomp – the tantana – on Monday was an echo of an echo, it was also the product of a governance system that cries out for re-examination.

This month we commemorate the passing of 46 years since we adopted a republican constitution which largely replaced the British monarchy with a president imbued with a range of ceremonial powers resembling those of a monarch –powers which remain hotly contested.

Such ambiguities famously resulted in one president, upon being sworn in, remarking, “Powers you think I have, I do not. Powers you think I do not have, I do.”

The President is correct to suggest MPs should work together. A good place for them to start would be constitutional reform.


"Echoes of echoes"

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