Some countries which would have been welcomed into Commonwealth membership – Republic of Ireland, Myanmar and several countries in the Middle East and North-East Africa formerly associated with the United Kingdom as dependencies, mandated territories or protected states – chose not to apply. Samoa, Maldives and Cameroon joined some years after gaining independence.
Three countries left the Commonwealth but have since returned to membership. South Africa withdrew in 1961 when it became clear that its reapplication for membership on becoming a republic would be rejected. After the democratic elections of 1994, South Africa was welcomed back into the association.
Pakistan left in 1972, when other member countries recognised Bangladesh, and returned after the democratic elections of 1989.
However, following the overthrow of the democratically elected government in October 1999, the country was suspended from the councils of the Commonwealth pending the restoration of democracy. This suspension was lifted in May 2004, but reimposed in November 2007 after a meeting of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) in Kampala pending the restoration of democracy and the rule of law. CMAG met again on 12 May 2008 and agreed that the Government of Pakistan had taken positive steps to fulfil its obligations in accordance with Commonwealth fundamental values and principles; it accordingly decided to restore Pakistan to the councils of the Commonwealth.
Fiji Islands’ membership lapsed in 1987, after a military coup imposed a constitution contrary to Commonwealth principles, and returned to membership in October 1997, when it had embarked on constitutional reform. Then following overthrow of the democratically elected government in May 2000, the country was suspended from the councils of the Commonwealth. Suspension was lifted in December 2001 when democracy and the rule of law had been restored in accordance with the constitution, but was then imposed again in December 2006 when the democratically elected government was again overthrown by the military. In May 2008 CMAG reiterated that it was essential that elections be held by the deadline of March 2009, as agreed between the Pacific Islands Forum and Fiji’s interim government. Elections did not, however, take place and CMAG subsequently deplored the fact that Fiji remained in contravention of Commonwealth values and principles.
At the end of July 2009, CMAG noted that Fiji’s situation had deteriorated strikingly with the purported abrogation of its constitution and further entrenchment of authoritarian rule. It also expressed grave concern at the regime’s intention to further delay a return to democracy by more than five years. Fiji was fully suspended from the Commonwealth on 1 September 2009 (only the second such case of suspension of a country’s membership – Nigeria being the first in 1995). The Commonwealth Secretariat has nonetheless remained engaged with Fiji Islands to support and promote inclusive political dialogue and the return to civilian constitutional democracy.
No country has formally been expelled, but in November 1995, Commonwealth Heads of Government took the then unprecedented step of suspending the membership of one of its members – Nigeria. This suspension was lifted on 29 May 1999 with the swearing in to office of a democratically elected civilian president.
One country, Zimbabwe, which had been a member since independence in April 1980, was suspended from Commonwealth councils in March 2002, following the presidential election, which was marred by a high level of politically motivated violence and during which the conditions did not adequately allow for a free expression of will by the electors. Then in December 2003, following the CHOGM Statement on Zimbabwe, the Government of Zimbabwe withdrew from the Commonwealth.
On 3 October 2013 the Government of The Gambia announced on state TV that The Gambia would withdraw from the Commonwealth and on 4 October the Commonwealth Secretary-General Kamalesh Sharma confirmed that the withdrawal was effective from 3 October.