The constitution was agreed at independence in 1981. The country is a constitutional monarchy which recognises Queen Elizabeth II as head of state. She is represented by a Governor-General appointed on the advice of the Prime Minister. Government is by parliamentary democracy with a bicameral legislature.
There is a directly elected lower House of Representatives of 17 members for a term of not more than five years (plus Speaker and Attorney-General) and an upper Senate of 17 members appointed by the Governor-General, one at his/her own discretion, 11 on the Prime Minister’s recommendation (including one inhabitant of Barbuda), four on that of the Leader of the Opposition, one on the recommendation of the Barbuda Council. The latter is responsible for local government on Barbuda, and consists of nine directly elected members. The constitution guarantees individual rights and freedoms
The Antigua Labour Party (ALP) led by Lester Bird won its sixth consecutive general election in March 1999 (in the presence of a Commonwealth observer group), gaining 12 of the 17 seats with 53 per cent of the votes cast. The United Progressive Party (UPP) took four seats, with 44 per cent of the votes, and the Barbuda People’s Movement (BPM) one seat.
Vere Bird Sr, who led the country to independence in 1981, and was Prime Minister until he retired from active politics before the 1994 general election, died in June 1999 at the age of 89.
At the request of the Prime Minister, a two-person Commonwealth expert group visited the country in July 2000, to consult the people and review the ‘operations of the arrangements’ between Antigua and Barbuda as established at a constitutional conference at Lancaster House, London, in 1980. In November 2000, at St John’s, Commonwealth Secretary-General Don McKinnon presented the group’s report and recommendations to the government, saying that implementation of these recommendations would bring an end to long-standing discord between the islands of Antigua and Barbuda.
In April 2003 the Electoral Office of Jamaica was engaged to compile a new voters’ list and collect photos and fingerprints to be used on identity cards, in preparation for the next general election. This work and the election itself in March 2004 were observed by a Commonwealth expert team. The UPP won the contest with 55 per cent of the votes and 12 seats, and Baldwin Spencer became Prime Minister, ending a 28-year run of power for the ALP and the Bird family.
In March 2009, the UPP, led by Spencer, was returned to power with a reduced majority, winning nine of the 17 seats and 51 per cent of the votes. The ALP took seven seats (47 per cent), and the BPM one (1 per cent). During the election campaign, the UPP had promised to sell off shares of state-owned corporations to the public, while the main opposition ALP had said that it would introduce tax cuts. Turnout was 80 per cent.
In the parliamentary elections held on 12 June 2014, the ABLP won 14 of the 17 seats in the House of Representatives, decisively ousting the UPP government (three seats). Turnout was 90 per cent. ABLP leader Gaston Browne was sworn in as Prime Minister on 13 June.
On 14 August 2014, following the retirement of Dame Louise Lake-Tack, Dr Sir Rodney Williams was sworn in as Governor-General.