Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Republic of Wales/Gweriniaeth Cymru - Exploring the options

Following on from my last post, I think it's worth brainstorming potential future republican options for Wales in a bit more depth.

Referendum or declaration?

Australia held a referendum in 1999 on amending their constitution to become a republic, and a republic was rejected by just under 55% of those who voted. The Australian proposal was a president elected by a two-thirds majority of Parliament 0 not in a separate general election. Whether that had any impact on the result I don't know.

Putting the "right sort" of republic to the electorate may matter as much as the issue itself.

South Africa also held a (successful) republic referendum in 1960, but whether that's a worthy example (for obvious reasons) I guess depends on individual interpretation.

On the other hand Wales could just "declare" a republic post-independence. The Irish Free State doing so via the Republic of Ireland Act of 1948, following the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921-22 and the Executive Authority (External Relations Act) of 1936. Tthe latter reduced the role of the King in Irish affairs to almost a token role barely worth the effort of.

And, of course, there's that other famous historical example from across the Atlantic.

What sort of republic?

A republic by definition is a system where the people at large have ultimate control over the government. There are obvious example in the World today where they have a funny definition of "republic", especially those with "people's" and "democratic" in their official name.

As Wales is a liberal multi-party democracy - albeit with dominant party system - there are three main types of republic that we can realistically choose between.

1. Presidential Republic

This is where a president has executive powers, usually constitutionally limited. More often than not there's a clear separation of powers between the executive, the legislature and the judiciary. The president has a "direct mandate" and is usually elected in a separate election.

However because of the principle of separation of powers, the cabinet is usually hand-selected by the president and sits outside of the legislature. Examples include the United States, Brazil, South Korea. This doesn't appear to be a form of government that's too popular in Europe.

2. Semi-Presidential Republic

In semi-presidential republics, the president and prime minister usually share powers, (sometimes but not always) defined by the constitution - so both take an active role in government. For example, the president may have power over external and foreign policy while a prime minister controls domestic affairs. The most prominent example is France, but it's also used in Finland, Russia and Ukraine.

3. Parliamentary Republic

The executive powers are largely retained by the legislature and there's no clear separation of powers. This is the most common form of republic in Europe. The head of the legislature is usually the head of the government - for example the Chancellor of Germany.

In these republics, the role of president is usually ceremonial, with a few defined powers, such as : signing treaties, appointing ambassadors, commander-in-chief and the general representative role the monarch fulfils currently.

It would enable the widest possible stream of Welsh society to stand for election, while a presidential republic would require candidates with some political nouse. This does seem to be the most common path for former constitutional monarchies.

The President - elected or appointed?

Some republics appoint their president from within the legislature. It was proposed in Australia and is currently used in South Africa, Germany, Iraq, Italy and Israel. It's surprisingly common to do it this way - especially in parliamentary republics - but by and large presidents are directly elected.

How should we elect them?

  • Straight up first past the post?
  • A two-round system, as used in France, where only the top two candidates go forward?
  • Supplementary Vote, as used in the Mayor of London election?
  • Alternative Vote, a step further than supplementary vote?

First past the post is simple, but it doesn't ensure the backing of the majority and could lead to low turnouts. While a ceremonial president wouldn't be high-stakes enough to go through multiple rounds of voting.

Who would we want? What should their role be?

Having a ceremonial president answers this to a certain extent.

I'd picture a President of Wales having powers/role such as:
  • Commander-in-chief of the Welsh Defence Forces
  • Represents Wales abroad and at home with dignity and tact.
  • Receive and entertain visiting dignitaries and guests of honour, organise state visits and functions.
  • Conferring honours, appointing ambassadors, commissioning officers etc.
  • Act as a mediator in inter/intra government disputes (i.e coalition negotiations)
  • Declare a state of emergency, national holiday and order lowering of flags on public buildings.
  • Signs Bills into law and treaties - with the authority of the legislature (majority vote).
  • Appoints the Prime Minister (with backing of legislature) and approves cabinet appointments.
  • Accepts/declines resignation of government ministers.
  • Dissolve the legislature, and call an extraordinary general election at the request of the legislature (i.e. Vote of no confidence in the government).

I can't help but feel that in reality the only candidates put forward by parties would be as some "reward" for loyal service because it's "their turn" - President Irene James anyone?

I would prefer prominent Welsh citizens from all walks of life to run, with as many independent candidates as possible. Off the top of my head: Tanni Grey-Thompson, Henry Englehardt, Gareth Edwards, Simon Weston.........I'm sure there are plenty of others too.

There's also the chance to create some "pomp" and ceremony of our own around a president. For example, some sort of formal inauguration ceremony and an evolution of the "Celebration of the Mace" that took place before the Queen's visit this week.

There are also other assorted questions that would need to be answered:
  • What would be the qualifications of office?
  • Would the president have an official residence and office? If so where?
  • What sort of security arrangements would be needed?
  • Would there need to be a Welsh language requirement for the job?
  • How much would the president be paid?


I'd prefer a directly elected, ceremonial president of a parliamentary republic. The president would be elected by either supplementary vote or alternative vote and would have a clearly defined list of powers and role in a written constitution. The president wouldn't have the power to pardon criminals, make or amend laws or veto legislation. Although commander-in-chief, only the legislature can authorise military action by majority vote. The president would be limited to two four-year terms.

To stand, candidates would need to meet the same requirements as those seeking election to the legislature, but with additional citizenship requirements, i.e. candidates must have been verifiably resident in Wales for (x) years and/or have at least one parent who is/was a naturalised Welsh citizen.

Additionally, they cannot be a sitting member of the legislature. There would also be a larger deposit for those seeking election as president and a higher vote threshold (10-15%) to retain said deposit.


  1. I'd go for a directly elected, ceremonial tywysog/tywysoges of a parliamentary republic :)

  2. A few years ago one of the Wembley Soccer cups was presented by a check-out girl from one of the sponsering supermarkets ... she did a good job to.

    Check-out girl of the year to be president for the year soounds good. I know we're supposed to be PC and all but I wouldn't bother with the check-out boy. People prefer a lass

  3. I'd tend to go for your option Oggy - but with the terms of office being longer. It needs to be well over the range of a single parliament. So, I'd go for 7 years, which I think is the Irish Presidency too.

    You need also to add that the President (and Prime Minister) would have an official residence. Two in fact, one in Cardiff, or nearby - Dyffryn Gardens for instance and one in the country - Mawddach estury for instance. This residences would also be used for official functions and also conferences etc.

    You also need Presidential flag - something on the lines of the House of Gwynedd is the obvious one.

  4. Glyndwr's Standard would be better, I'd prefer the president to be elected by a joint session of both houses of the Welsh Parliament and for it to be largely a ceremonial role with some reserve powers. In the even of Parliament being unable to elect someone by a two thirds majority then the top two candidates go forward to the electorate...

  5. Thanks for commenting.

    Anon 18:44 - Tywysog, President, Grand Poobah. I don't think the title matters too much, just the "directly elected" part.

    Anon 19:31 - As we're not being PC here, I can go along with long as they have a nice arse. Get us onto good terms with Italy at least......

    Anon 21:24 - I said 4-year terms because I wouldn't want the post to become stale. It would be nice to have a healthy bit of turnover. I wouldn't have too much of a problem with a longer term post, perhaps a single 8-year term.

    There are probably too many options for residences to nail any one down. I'd always pictured City Hall in Cardiff for hosting state events though. Perhaps Llwynywermwd can be requisitioned for a country residence.

    Cibwr - I'd definitely choose Glyndwr's Standard/House of Aberffraw. Don't you think it's a little ironic that symbol of royalty be used as a symbol for a republican head of state?

    Despite the subject matter of the post I've always wondered what a native Welsh monarchy would be like. One of the Watkin-Wynns would be the decendants now I suppose.

  6. Coming back to this a bit late, City Hall in Cardiff is great for state receptions, but you still need a residence - which doubles as an official guest house for visiting heads of states etc... I would suggest that the Mansion House in Cardiff is a bit small and maybe somewhere like Insole Court would be a good idea... its big enough, had nice outbuildings and grounds and is in need of renovation...

  7. Cibwr - Insole Court would be high on my list for that function too. However a president should reflect it's nations values. I'm not sure the Welsh public would really want a grand mansion for a president and expect something a bit more modest like a terrace on Cathedral Road (which I've always pictured as being the main street for foreign embassies) or even no official residence at all.

  8. Very late reply, Insole Court - on the scale of things, is not that grand, but it is big enough to act as an official guest house and residence and still be secure enough, much as I like the idea of one of the nice houses on Cathedral Road they would be a nightmare to make secure.