Queen takes no bets on future

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The Independent Online
LIMASSOL - Many have forgotten, if they ever knew it, that the very device of the British monarch as head of the Commonwealth was invented as a result of the emergence of a new republic, writes Annika Savill.

It was after India's independence in 1947. Jawaharlal Nehru, India's first prime minister, decided to opt for a republic after a year as a dominion, but wanted to remain in association with the former colonial power. What was good enough for the jewel in the crown was good enough for others. This opened the floodgate for all the republics of Africa, which used to be part of the Empire.

There is today no African country of which the Queen is head of state. Of the 50 members of the Commonwealth, only 16 retain the Queen as head of state. Twenty-nine of them are republics.

Paul Keating, the Australian leader who plans to make that figure 30, had an audience with the Queen yesterday. He emerged to say: 'I think Her Majesty understands these historical changes probably better than any of us talking here at the moment.' He added: 'I've never had anything but the most friendly and cordial meetings with the Queen, ever. As you know I hold her in the highest regard and I always enjoy her company . . . Countries have constitutional discussions; she wished the nation the best in those debates - taking no particular side in them.'

He was speaking the day after the Queen gave a speech in which she said she would not be betting on how many of the members at this year's Commonwealth summit would retain the monarch as head of state in 40 years' time.

Much was also made of her remark that 'some among you have constitutional problems at home to resolve. To those who have, I wish you well for their resolution'. Commonwealth sources said, however, that this did not amount to the Queen telling the Australians to go fly a kite; rather, she was noting the situation in member-states like Sierra Leone, under a military dictatorship for the past 18 months and redrafting its constitution.

Mr Keating may take it as read that when Australians vote in a referendum on the monarchy they will opt massively for a republic; some Australians are not so sure.