Wellington, New Zealand (AFP) – New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Monday that her government would not take any steps to change the country into a republic following the death of Queen Elizabeth II.
Ardern said she believes New Zealand will eventually become a republic, likely within her lifetime, but there are more pressing issues for her government.
These comments are her first on the New Zealand Republic controversy since the Queen’s death, and reflect previous comments she has made on the issue. Ardern has also previously expressed support for the country to eventually become a republic.
Under the current system, the British monarch is New Zealand’s head of state, represented in New Zealand by the Governor-General. These days the role of the Governor-General is primarily ceremonial.
However, many people argue that New Zealand will not fully emerge from the shadows of its colonial past and become a truly independent country until it becomes a republic.
“There’s been a debate, probably for several years,” Ardern said. “It’s just the speed, and how widespread this debate is. I’ve made my point clear several times. I think that’s where New Zealand is going in time. I think it’s likely to happen in my life.”
“But I don’t see it as a short-term measure or anything on the agenda anytime soon,” Ardern said.
She said turning into a republic was not something her government ever intended to discuss.
“Like I said, in large part actually because I’ve never felt the urgency,” Ardern said. “There are a lot of challenges that we face. This is a big and important debate. I don’t think it can or should happen quickly.”
Elizabeth’s death and King Charles III’s ascension to the throne have revived Republican debate in many countries around the world.
Charles became head of state not only in the United Kingdom and New Zealand but also in 13 other countries, including Canada, Jamaica and Australia.
Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has started laying the foundation for the Australian Republic after his election in May. But on Sunday he said it was not a time for change but a time to honor Elizabeth. He has previously said that holding a referendum on becoming a republic is not a priority for his first term in government.
Many people in New Zealand have speculated in the past that the debate over the republic would not gain momentum until after Elizabeth’s death, given how much she was loved by many.
Ardern said she did not link the two events. “I’ve never hung it that way,” she said.
Elizabeth’s portrait appears on many New Zealand coins and banknotes. This prompted the country’s central bank to advise people that the coin it depicts remains legal tender after its death.
Ardern also announced on Monday that New Zealand will celebrate Elizabeth’s death with a public holiday on September 26. The nation will hold an official memorial service that day in the capital, Wellington.
Ardern said Elizabeth was an extraordinary person and that many New Zealanders would appreciate the opportunity to commemorate her death and celebrate her life.
“As the Queen of New Zealand and a much-loved Sovereign for more than 70 years, it is fitting that we celebrate her life of dedicated public service with a state memorial and a one-off public holiday,” Ardern said.
Ardern said she will be leaving this week for Britain to attend Elizabeth’s funeral.