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Trinidad and Tobago : Constitution and politics

Constitution

Status: 
Republic
Legislature: 
Parliament of Trinidad and Tobago
Independence: 
31 August 1962

Trinidad and Tobago is a unitary republic with a representative government and a degree of regional autonomy. The head of state is a non-executive President elected by an electoral college comprising all the members of parliament. The executive is led by the Prime Minister who heads a cabinet chosen by him or her and responsible to parliament.

The legislature consists of the bicameral Parliament, with a directly elected 41-member House of Representatives and a 31-member Senate. Senators are appointed by the President, 16 on the advice of the Prime Minister, six on the advice of the Leader of the Opposition, and nine of the President’s own choice. Elections are held every five years. The House of Representatives has 42 members when the Speaker is not already an elected member of the House.

Tobago has a regional House of Assembly, set up in 1980, with certain local powers over finances and other delegated responsibilities. It has 12 elected members and several members appointed by the political parties. Constitutional amendments have granted Tobago greater control over urban and rural development, health, education and housing, though its Assembly has no legislative powers.

Politics

Following the tied December 2001 general election – when the People’s National Movement (PNM) and the United National Congress (UNC) each secured 18 seats in the House of Representatives (and the National Alliance for Reconstruction none) – a fresh election was called in October 2002 when the PNM secured a majority, with 20 seats with 50.7 per cent of the votes, while the UNC took 16 with 46.6 per cent. PNM leader Patrick Manning – whom the President had chosen to be Prime Minister and form a government after the tied election – resumed as Prime Minister.

In the elections in November 2007 (with the number of contested seats increased from 36 to 41), on a platform that highlighted its strong economic management and proposed introduction of an executive presidency, the ruling PNM won with 26 seats and 45.9 per cent of votes. The main opposition UNC took 15 seats and 29.7 per cent of votes and the newly established Congress of the People gained 22.6 per cent of votes but no seats. PNM’s majority was a few seats short of the two-thirds required to amend the constitution.

Following a threatened vote of no confidence against Prime Minister Manning in April 2010, parliament was dissolved. In the general election which followed in May 2010, a new five-party coalition, the People’s Partnership, led by UNC leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar and including the Congress of the People, won 29 of the 41 seats in the lower house and 42.9 per cent of the votes cast, soundly defeating the incumbent PNM (12 seats and 39.6 per cent). Persad-Bissessar became Prime Minister, the first woman in the country’s history to assume the role.

On the retirement of President George Maxwell Richards at the end of his second five-year term of office, on 15 February 2013 Justice Anthony Carmona, the sole candidate, was elected President by the electoral college. He was sworn in on 18 March 2013.

Tobago

In the Tobago House of Assembly election, held on 21 January 2013, the People’s National Movement, led by Orville London, won all 12 elective seats.

Head of government

The Hon Dr Keith Christopher Rowley, Prime Minister
The Hon Keith Rowley was sworn in to office on 9 September 2015 after his People’s National Movement (PNM) party won general elections held on 7 September. Dr Rowley first contested the seat of Tobago West for the PNM in 1981. He served as an Opposition Senator from 1987-1990. He became the Member of Parliament for Diego Martin West in Trinidad in 1991 and he has represented the seat in the House of Representatives since that time. He has held the portfolios of Minister of Agriculture, Lands and Marine Resources, Minister of Planning and Development, Minister of Housing and Minister of Trade and Industry. Following the PNM’s electoral loss in 2010, Dr Rowley was appointed Leader of the PNM and Opposition Leader. Before entering politics, Dr Rowley worked as a Volcanologist. He obtained a PhD in geology, specialising in geochemistry, from the University of the West Indies. He held positions including Research Fellow and later Head of the Seismic Research Unit at the University of the West Indies. Dr Rowley was also the General Manager of the State-owned National Quarries Company Limited. He also served as Trinidad and Tobago’s representative Governor of the Inter-America Development Bank (IDB) and as Governor of the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB). He was born on 24 October 1949 in Mason Hall, Tobago.