Jamaica is a constitutional monarchy with Queen Elizabeth II as head of state. She is represented by a Governor-General appointed on the recommendation of the Prime Minister. The country is a parliamentary democracy with a bicameral legislature and party system, based on universal adult suffrage.
The 21 senators are appointed by the Governor-General, 13 of them on the advice of the Prime Minister, and eight on the advice of the Leader of the Opposition. The House of Representatives has 63 directly elected members. The Governor-General appoints the Prime Minister (the MP best able to lead the majority of the House) and Leader of the Opposition. The cabinet (Prime Minister and at least 11 ministers) has executive responsibility. Elections are held at intervals not exceeding five years.
The constitution may be amended by a simple majority of both houses except for the entrenched provisions (that can be amended only by two-thirds majority of both houses) and specially entrenched clauses (as above, plus ratification through referendum).
After a violent campaign, the general election in October 2002 was largely free of violence. In a closer-fought contest than in 1997, the People’s National Party (PNP) won an unprecedented fourth successive victory with 34 seats and 52.2 per cent of the votes and P J Patterson was returned as Prime Minister. The Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) took the remaining 26 seats.
Following his return to the JLP in 2002 (he had left the JLP in 1995 to found and lead the National Democratic Movement), in 2005 Bruce Golding succeeded the party’s veteran leader Edward Seaga as party leader; Seaga had been leader in government and opposition for 31 years.
Professor Kenneth Hall succeeded Sir Howard Felix Cooke as Governor-General in February 2006 and Portia Simpson Miller succeeded Patterson as Prime Minister when he retired after 14 consecutive years in office in March 2006.
In the September 2007 general election, the opposition JLP, led by Golding, won a narrow victory with 32 seats and 50.1 per cent of votes, while PNP took 28 seats and 49.8 per cent. There was a 60 per cent turnout.
Dr Patrick Allen succeeded Sir Kenneth Hall as Governor-General on his retirement in February 2009.
On 25 September 2011 Bruce Golding announced his retirement as JLP leader and Prime Minister. In early October 2011 the JLP chose Education Minister Andrew Holness as its new leader and Holness was sworn in as Prime Minister on 23 October. At 39 he was the country’s youngest ever Prime Minister.
The PNP won the early general election of December 2011, securing 42 of the 63 elective seats (increased from 60 since the 2007 election) and 53.0 per cent of the vote; the JLP took the balance of 21 seats and 46.3 per cent. Only some 53 per cent of the registered voters cast their vote. PNP leader Portia Simpson Miller was sworn in as Prime Minister for a second time.