Governor-General is a term used both historically and currently to designate the appointed representative of a head of state or their government for a particular territory, historically in a colonial context. The title has been and is still used for representatives of the British Crown in territories of the Commonwealth or in countries which were once British possessions. A primary example is the position as Governor-General of India, which existed from 1774 to 1858, when it was redesignated Viceroy.
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2 Other Usages
3 See also
Today the title Governor-General is used in those member countries of the Commonwealth of which Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom remains the titular head of state or sovereign (Note: Canada uses the term Governor General with no hyphen.) In these countries, known as Commonwealth realms, the Governor-General acts as the Queen's representative, performing all the ceremonial and constitutional functions of a head of state. Except in rare cases, the Governor-General only acts in accordance with constitutional convention and upon the advice of the Prime Minister. In principle, the Queen could overrule the Governor-General, but this has not happened in modern times.
The Governor-General retains all the reserve powers that the Queen exercises in the United Kingdom. This was shown most clearly in 1975, when the Governor-General of Australia, Sir John Kerr, dismissed the Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam, despite the fact that Whitlam retained the confidence of the lower house of the Parliament, and commissioned a new Prime Minister who had given an undertaking that he would seek an immediate dissolution of parliament.
In its modern usage, the term Governor-General originated in those self-governing Dominions of the British Empire, such as Canada and Australia, which were federations of British colonies. Since each of these colonies already had a Governor, the Queen's representative to the federated Dominion was given the superior title Governor-General.
Until the 1920s, the Governor-General also acted as the representative of the British Government in each Dominion. The Governor-General could be instructed by the Colonial Secretary on the exercise of some of his functions and duties, such as the use or withholding of the Royal Assent from legislation. In 1927, implementing a decision of a Commonwealth Conference, this role was abolished.
Today the following countries have Governors-General: Antigua and Barbuda, Australia, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Canada, Grenada, Jamaica, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, St Kitts and Nevis, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines and Solomon Islands.
In Australia, Canada and New Zealand, the Governors-General were originally British, and were appointed by the British Government. They were seen as the personal representative of the King or Queen. In 1929, however, the Australian Prime Minister James Scullin established the right of a Dominion Prime Minister to advise the King directly on the appointment of a Governor-General, and then recommended the appointment of an Australian.
Today the convention has been established that the Governor-General is a citizen of the country concerned, with a distinguished record of public service. The Governor-General is formally appointed by the Queen, on the advice of the Prime Minister of the country concerned.
Most Commonwealth countries that originally had Governors-General are now republics, with the head of state being the President. Some are parliamentary republics, like India, where the presidency is a ceremonial post, like the that of the Queen. Others, like South Africa, the presidency is an executive post, as in the United States. Australia held a referendum on becoming a parliamentary republic in 1999, but this was rejected on various grounds, including that the President would not be directly elected, but instead chosen by Parliament. Barbados and Jamaica have also announced plans to become republics, in each case with a ceremonial President replacing the Queen as head of state.