Barbados is a parliamentary democracy and constitutional monarchy, recognising Queen Elizabeth II as head of state. She is represented by a Governor-General appointed on the recommendation of the Prime Minister. There is a bicameral legislature and party system, based on universal adult suffrage.
The Senate has 21 members appointed by the Governor-General, 12 on the advice of the Prime Minister, two on that of the Leader of the Opposition, and the remaining seven at the Governor-General’s discretion.
The House of Assembly has 30 directly elected members. Leaders of each house (President and Deputy President of the Senate and Speaker and Deputy Speaker of the Assembly) are elected by the members of the respective houses.
The Governor-General appoints as Prime Minister the parliamentarian who commands – in the Governor-General’s opinion – the largest support within the House of Assembly, and the Prime Minister heads the cabinet. Other ministers are appointed from either house by the Governor-General as advised by the Prime Minister. The Governor-General appoints the Leader of the Opposition – the MP who, in his/her judgement, leads the party commanding the support of the largest number of MPs in opposition to the government. The normal life of parliament is five years.
The constitution may be amended by act of parliament passed by both houses, except for entrenched clauses which require two-thirds majorities in both houses. These clauses relate to citizenship, rights and freedoms, the governor-generalship, composition of parliament and its sessions, prorogation and dissolution, general elections, senatorial appointments, executive authority, judicature, civil service and finance.
Sir Henry Forde’s Constitutional Commission’s much-delayed report was published in December 1998. Its main proposals were to introduce more checks and balances on the government, to create the institutional structures to ensure politicians behave with greater probity, and to replace the British monarch as the head of state by a ceremonial President.
In the general election of January 1999, the Barbados Labour Party (BLP) had a strong endorsement of their management of the economy and a mandate for their proposals for constitutional change. They gained 26 seats, with 65 per cent of the votes, while the Democratic Labour Party (DLP) took only two. Owen Arthur began his second term of office as Prime Minister.
During 1999 and 2000 the new government pressed on with the proposed changes to the constitution, adding further issues to the agenda for public debate, for example limiting the number of terms a Prime Minister may serve, equal rights for women, and the independence of the judiciary. However, the debate proceeded slowly.
In 2001, David Thompson, DLP leader in the 1994 and 1999 general elections, was succeeded by Clyde Mascoll.
Arthur and the BLP were once again given a strong endorsement in the May 2003 elections, though with 23 seats to the DLP’s seven, not as strong as in 1999. The BLP still had the two-thirds majority needed to enact constitutional amendments, although constitutional issues, such as replacing the British monarch as the head of state with a ceremonial President, had not been prominent in the election campaign. But in 2005 the UK Privy Council was replaced as the final court of appeal by the Trinidad and Tobago-based Caribbean Court of Justice.
Thompson returned to head the DLP in 2006 following the defection of Mascoll to the BLP. The DLP went on to win the general election in January 2008 ending the BLP’s 13 years in government; the DLP taking 20 of the 30 contested seats and the BLP ten. Thompson was sworn in as Prime Minister.
Prime Minister David Thompson died on 23 October 2010. He was succeeded by Deputy PM and Attorney-General Freundel Stuart.
In the February 2013 election Freundel Stuart and the DLP were returned to power by a narrow margin. The DLP won 16 of the 30 elective House of Assembly seats with 51.3 per cent of votes cast and the BLP – led by former PM Owen Arthur – 14 seats with 48.3 per cent.